Amiko begins with a mystery, our title character informing us of the absence of a popular student athlete at school.
But it isn’t a mystery movie.
A flashback almost immediately shifts the film in a way that, for at least a few minutes, it feels distinctly possible that it’s about to turn into a high-school version of Before Sunrise, with two kindred souls forming an unbreakable bond over the course of a long walkabout spent talking about everything and nothing.
It isn’t that movie either, though, as the conversation ends in ten minutes. So maybe that was just a meet-cute? I guess this’ll be a rom-com?
Again, it wasn’t, but that was when I stopped trying to guess where this movie was going. It was only when the movie ended and I looked up the press kit (I like going in blind) that everything clicked into place: Amiko is the directorial debut of 20-year-old director Yoko Yamanaka, made with roughly $2,500 after dropping out of school at 19.
While that may sound back-handed, I promise it’s not. There’s something punk about the movie, an agitated energy beneath the quiet observations of the camera that makes a lot more sense when you realize the youth and passion behind it. It’s not someone’s movie about teenagers, but a movie by them. There’s no adult intermediary between the voice of the character and the representation on film, no sanding down of tangents, no conforming to a narrative tradition a more experienced director might bring.
Instead we touch base with Amiko over the span of a year, following the thread begun by her conversation with soccer player Aomi at the start of the film. We see her hanging out with a friend, eating dinner, reading manga and hanging out at a video store. It seems aimless at first, but the cumulative effect is a portrait of a young woman unlike any I’ve seen in recent memory – and almost definitely unlike any protagonist I’ve seen in a Japanese film before.
While Yamanaka does a good job pacing her story and keeping her shots composed, you can’t ignore the work done by Aira Sunohara, who plays Amiko with a withering deadpan that would make Daria proud. On her walk with Aomi, Amiko says: “Apparently, for a woman, there comes a day in a year when she doesn’t care about anything. So if on that day, she happens to be asked to star in a porno movie, she’ll say yes,” She then explains, “I have that kind of day at least once a month.”
It’s a quiet, surprisingly reflective movie, but the word my mind keeps returning to is “punk” – not so much a “as fast and loud as possible” punk, but rather the “I genuinely don’t care what you think” punk (but maybe the “as fast as possible” one, too, considering the film runs a brisk 66 minutes). There’s a rebellion and a desire for more, or maybe just a need to be heard or exist in some specific way. There’s definitely some sort of there there, but much like David S. Pumpkins, it’s its own thang.
Whatever it is, though, we’re excited to see Yamanaka does with it in her next feature.
Amiko will be screening on Sunday, July 29, at 2:45 PM as part of the Japan Society’s annual Japan Cuts film festival. Tickets are still available on their website.