Moving talks about present-day problems in Japan. The story takes place in the town of Kyoto, a town where the richness of traditional language and a certain way of thinking in relation to human emotions still very much exists. This is a simple story of parents wanting to divorce, but seen through the eyes of their daughter. I wanted to describe what she sees beyond divorce. I would be happy if you’d discover this with Renko.
Renko’s mum and dad are splitting up, and her heart is burning. So she plays with fire, tears up the rule book, holds herself hostage, and even starts talking to the weird girl in school who’s the only other one with divorced parents. But as Renko watches her childhood go up in flames, she learns how to forge a new self from the embers. Director Shinji Somai is hugely regarded in Japan, but only starting to be known in the West, more than a decade after his death. Surprising and emotionally thrilling, Moving is the work of a remarkable filmmaker at the height of his powers.
Critic Shigehiko Hasumi once suggested that Japanese filmmaker Shinji Somai – who died young aged 53 in 2001, after directing 13 features – ‘is the missing link between the end of the studio system of Japan and the rise of independent filmmaking’. In their compassionate depictions of loneliness and alienation, you can certainly see the influence of Somai’s films in the works of several younger directors who followed, including Shunji Iwai (All About Lily Chou-Chou) and Kiyoshi Kurosawa (Pulse).
So why is Somai relatively unknown in the west? It’s all down to the mysteries of international distribution. For whatever reason, none of Somai’s films got released in the UK, with opportunities to see them relegated to festival appearances or one-off repertory screenings. Even a particularly high interest in contemporary Japanese cinema in Britain in the early 2000s – the time of the J-horror boom – didn’t result in distribution for Somai’s final features, Wait and See (1998) and Kaza-hana (2000).
In recent years, the Edinburgh International Film Festival showcased a full retrospective of his work in 2012, while Moving (1993) was part of the touring programme in support of Mark Cousins’ A Story of Children and Film (2013). At the time of writing, we’ve just seen the first ever home-video outing for any of Somai’s features in the west: Arrow Video’s Blu-ray of Sailor Suit and Machine Gun (1981). It’s hopefully a sign of good things to come, as Somai’s CV includes some of the finest Japanese films of the 1980s and 90s.
Although he worked in different genres and also made some films centred on older leads, the majority of his 13 features are based around young people going through rites of passage. These might play out in either very recognisable or completely outlandish scenarios – Sailor Suit and Machine Gun, for example, concerns a teenage schoolgirl inheriting a yakuza clan’s loyalty. But he always captures a palpable feeling of adolescence, meeting youths at their level and trying to get inside their heads, without engaging the prejudice of an adult’s mindset.
His youth-focused films contain the most striking use of his trademark long takes, which always heighten the feeling that anything can happen, with some of the more ambitious examples involving stunt work. In his earlier efforts, in particular, the camera is nearly always on the move, and often placed at a considerable distance from the actors. At times it seems as though its focus is being directed beyond the narrative concerns of the scene, moving to capture something ephemeral within the given environment, especially in outdoor scenes in busy urban areas.
Moving is the ideal starting point and more representative of Somai’s output as a whole. It centres around a young girl called Renko (an incredible performance from Tomoko Tabata), who begins acting out in light of her parents’ messy divorce.
The domestic drama morphs into something altogether more elemental and abstract in its incredible final half hour, set around a countryside fire festival. Although most of Somai’s film narratives are told in a linear fashion, there’s a degree to which they all play with the concept of time in some way. Temporality combined with the surrealistic bending of reality and memory is key to much of Somai’s work. In Moving, Renko’s literal embrace of a physical manifestation of her younger self is one of the most touching examples.
Josh Slater-Williams, bfi.org.uk,13 December 2021
Director: Shinji Somai
Production Companies: Kitty Film, Yomiuri TV, Dentsu, Engine Film, Herald Ace, Argo Project
Executive Producers: Kei Ijichi, Masahiro Yasuda
Producers: Hiroshisa Mukuju, Hiroyuki Fujikado
Screenplay: Satoko Okudera, Satoshi Okonogi, Satoru Kobiki
Based on the novel by: Hiko Tanaka
Director of Photography: Toyomichi Kurita
Editor: Yoshiyuki Okuhara
Art Director: Shigenori Shimoishizaka
Music: Nariaki Saegusa
Sound: Hidetoshi Nonaka
Tomoko Tabata (Renko)
Junko Sakurada (Nazuna, Renko’s mother)
Kiichi Nakai (Kenichi, Renko’s father)
Shofukutei Tsurubei (Kimekome, Renko’s teacher)
Taro Tanaka (Yukio)
Mariko Sudo (Wakako)
100 YEARS OF JAPANESE CINEMA
After Life (Wandafuru raifu)
Wed 1 Dec 18:10; Fri 10 Dec 20:40; Mon 13 Dec 20:40; Wed 29 Dec 14:20
In the Realm of the Senses (Ai no corrida)
Wed 1 Dec 20:50; Sat 11 Dec 20:45; Wed 22 Dec 18:20
Funeral Parade of Roses (Bara no sôretsu)
Thu 2 Dec 18:00 (+ pre-recorded intro by Professor Mitsuyo Wada-Marciano, Kyoto University); Tue 14 Dec 14:30; Mon 27 Dec 15:50
The Shifting Spaces of Modern Japanese Cinema
Thu 2 Dec 20:40
Woman of the Dunes (Suna no Onna)
Fri 3 Dec 18:00 (+ intro by Espen Bale, BFI National Archive); Sat 18 Dec 17:30
Tokyo Drifter (Tôkyô nagaremono)
Fri 3 Dec 20:50; Thu 23 Dec 18:30
Black Rain (Kuroi ame)
Sat 4 Dec 17:50; Tue 28 Dec 18:15
Straits of Hunger (aka A Fugitive from the Past) (Kiga kaikyô)
Sun 5 Dec 16:30; Sat 18 Dec 14:30
Woman of the Lake (Onna no mizûmi)
Mon 6 Dec 18:00; Wed 15 Dec 20:50
Silence Has No Wings (Tobenai chinmoku)
Mon 6 Dec 20:55; Wed 15 Dec 18:00
The Long Darkness (Shinobugawa)
Wed 8 Dec 20:40; Sun 19 Dec 12:40
Pale Flower (Kawaita hana)
Thu 9 Dec 18:00; Sun 19 Dec 18:20
Death By Hanging (Kôshikei)
Fri 10 Dec 17:50; Fri 17 Dec 18:00
Muddy River (Doro no kawa)
Sun 12 Dec 11:50 (+ intro by season co-programmer Alexander Jacoby); Thu 23 Dec 20:40
The Demon (Kichiku)
Sun 12 Dec 14:50 (+ intro by season co-programmer Alexander Jacoby); Sun 19 Dec 16:00
The Man Who Stole the Sun (Taiyô wo nusunda otoko)
Sun 12 Dec 18:00; Thu 16 Dec 20:10
Mon 13 Dec 18:00 (+ intro by Catherine Wheatley, King’s College London); Fri 17 Dec 20:45; Tue 28 Dec 15:10
Philosophical Screens: Tampopo
Mon 13 Dec 20:15 Blue Room
The Emperor’s Naked Army Marches On (Yuki Yukite, Shingun)
Sat 18 Dec 11:40; Mon 27 Dec 18:20
Sat 18 Dec 20:35; Wed 29 Dec 20:30
Fire Festival (Himatsuri)
Mon 20 Dec 17:50; Mon 27 Dec 13:20
Suzaku (Moe No Suzaku)
Tue 21 Dec 17:45; Thu 30 Dec 21:00
Shall We Dance? (Shall we dansu?)
Tue 21 Dec 20:30; Thu 30 Dec 17:40
Wed 22 Dec 20:50; Tue 28 Dec 12:10
In partnership wtih
With special thanks to
With the kind support of:
Janus Films/The Criterion Collection, Kadokawa Corporation, Kawakita Memorial Film Institute, Kokusai Hoei Co. Ltd, Nikkatsu Corporation, Toei Co. Ltd
Welcome to the home of great film and TV, with three cinemas and a studio, a world-class library, regular exhibitions and a pioneering Mediatheque with 1000s of free titles for you to explore. Browse special-edition merchandise in the BFI Shop.We're also pleased to offer you a unique new space, the BFI Riverfront – with unrivalled riverside views of Waterloo Bridge and beyond, a delicious seasonal menu, plus a stylish balcony bar for cocktails or special events. Come and enjoy a pre-cinema dinner or a drink on the balcony as the sun goes down.
BECOME A BFI MEMBER
Enjoy a great package of film benefits including priority booking at BFI Southbank and BFI Festivals. Join today at bfi.org.uk/join
We are always open online on BFI Player where you can watch the best new, cult & classic cinema on demand. Showcasing hand-picked landmark British and independent titles, films are available to watch in three distinct ways: Subscription, Rentals & Free to view.
See something different today on player.bfi.org.uk
Join the BFI mailing list for regular programme updates. Not yet registered? Create a new account at www.bfi.org.uk/signup
Programme notes and credits compiled by the BFI Documentation Unit
Notes may be edited or abridged
Questions/comments? Contact the Programme Notes team by email