Filmmaker fills big screen with the outcasts of modern Japan
The scenes in Eiji Uchida’s Love and Other Cults reveal a Japanese countryside that is far from a bucolic idyll
Building on the success of Lowlife Love in 2015, filmmaker Eiji Uchida moves his focus to another set of fringe dwellers pushed to the margins of Japanese society in his latest movie, Love and Other Cults. Uchida has again teamed up with prominent producer and distributor Adam Torel of Third Window Films.
The film enjoyed its world premiere at the Far East Film Festival in Udine and Uchida took his bow before enthusiastic lovers of East Asian cinema gathered in the Italian city. With him were Torel and two of the cast: Sairi Ito, the star, and comedian-turned-actor Anthony.
Torel was complementary about this year’s FEFF. “The level of the festival has gone up,” he says. “There have been many film lovers of Asian cinema at the FEFF but recently many producers, buyers, sellers and programmers are coming to this festival.”
Uchida attended last year’s FEFF and appreciates the audiences here. “You want to watch the movie with this audience because they have a strong reaction,” he says. “The theater is very reactive, so it’s fun to be with them watching a film.”
In Love and Other Cults, a small child bearing the scars of self-mutilation laments: “Such is life.” Ai, played by Ito, has been neglected by her single mother. She is the devotee of a cult and is trapped in aimless wandering, switching from one adopted identity to another, including the persona of the legendary fallen woman, Yoko.
Surrounded by juvenile delinquents and yakuza wannabes, Ai seeks a sense of belonging among the outcasts of modern Japan.
The tale told by Love and Other Cults was inspired by an actor’s life story. “The original story that she told me was much more hardcore than the one that I portrayed,” Uchida says. “Let’s say that I made it more pop. I wanted to put out something about the prostitution of teenagers and how yakuza are using these teenagers. These are all problems of the current times in Japan.”
He said the actor who inspired the tale exemplified a class of victims. “In the countryside you have adults who exploit the young and some of them resort to prostitution because they have no money,” he said.
Anthony plays Kenta, a bossy figure in a small gang, who is an outsider in the conservative community he inhabits, and he himself is trapped. Anthony had no previous experience of acting but his presence in the film is impressive. “In order to do comedy, you also have to know how to act. So, acting was an extension of my activity as a comedian,” he says. “Now I really feel that I have moved from being a comedian to being an actor. My career as an actor starts here, in Udine.”
Love and Other Cults has a humorous script and is comically acted. The film avoids being judgmental about the violent, salacious and irrational behavior of the characters. Instead, Uchida adroitly reveals what lies behind the recklessness of the marginalized juveniles, capturing the emotions provoked by their predicaments.
Such insights have become Uchida’s trademark as a film-maker. His interest in his subject matter stems from his own experience of being left out. “I lived the first 11 years of my life in Brazil, and then I went back to Japan,” he says.
“During my first 10 years in Japan, I felt ill at ease, failing to become integrated with the Japanese community. When I was in Brazil, I loved Japan. I was strongly aware of being Japanese. Back in Japan, I was bullied. It was in the Kyushu area, conservative countryside. I was treated as an outsider and badly tainted,” he says. “I used to both love and hate Japan.”
A correction was made on May 5, 2017, to the fifth paragraph that erroneously referred to “a child being neglected by his single mother Ai.” It should read: Ai, played by Ito, has been neglected by her single mother.