01st Aug2019

Fantasia 2019: ‘His Bad Blood’ Review

by Chris Cummings

Stars: Yu Toyama, Ikkei Watanabe, Sakura Enomoto, Ryo Ushimaru, Naoki Goto | Written by Koichiro Oyama, Fumiya Yasumoto | Directed by Koichiro Oyama

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This Japanese drama from first-time director Koichiro Oyama, with a screenplay from Oyama himself and Fumiya Yasumoto, is a mean-spirited little indie that took me by surprise throughout its close to 2-hour run time.

The discomfort and shocking moments of the film come from the ways in which Oyama insists on pushing our main characters into various directions and giving us situations that can range from humorous to just plain nasty. We start out by meeting Hiroshi (Ikkei Watanabe), a wandering man who is attempting to run away with his wife’s money while she’s in labour, having their baby boy. He’s soon chased down by his brother-in-law and a bunch of locals who beat the hell out him. He’s saved from his apparently bloody end and escapes. We fast-forward three decades and the anger from the residents of the village is still alive and swollen in their guts, as they transfer their feelings to Hiroshi’s son, Shinichi, as well as Shinichi’s mother. The situation with Shinichi, causing the boy to be afraid for his future, anoxious and bewildered by everything, bring him to look for and find shelter in a local church, organised by the very same man who had saved Shinichi’s father thirty years prior. We quickly find Shinichi sharing the safety of the church with his old man, who is still up to his conniving ways, but the two are unaware of their relationship to each other, and the priest keeps hush about it too.

The whole set-up to this story is done beautifully. It’s both shocking and brilliant and handled with enough subtlety that removes any cliche elements from the narrative. The writing is top notch and I loved the turns in the road on the way to this cross-section of these two characters finding themselves in the same place at the same time without knowledge of who the other one is. The way the residents of the town hold the same grudge towards Shinichi and his family as they do his father, even though they had nothing to do with the conning that Hiroshi undertook for so long, created scenes of tension and a constant concern for the characters. This toxic community environment, unable to let go of the past, is a large part of what His Bad Blood is talking about. The change in tone here really stood out to me, with some scenes flipping from almost pure-comedy to dark dramatic moments and back again. I liked the way this happened, keeping me, the viewer on my toes. While this isn’t the most original film in terms of its ideas and concepts, the way it’s shot, and the way Oyama chooses to tell his story, is unique indeed.

Asking questions about the ability to change and continuing the traits set by parents offers some interesting plot points, and I thought the performances were mostly very good. Ikkei Watanabe (Parasite Eve) as Hiroshi was very good, and while he’s not an actor I’ve personally seen much, his experience shows. He’s a rat, a con-man and someone who comes off as untrustworthy, yet Watanabe brings a likability that remains, regardless of the things we see the character go through. First-time actor Yo Toyama, who plays Shinichi, is also great. A depressed, downtrodden and awkward character that feels like the flip-side of the coin to his father. The two interact well, their scenes being probably the best in the film. They have a fine chemistry. Overall, the performance level was high throughout the whole movie and it helped to keep me involved and immersed. The cinematography and editing is really beautiful and the way the camera moves, along with the musical notes beside it, thrust the film into a higher level of quality that I could have imagined.

I was completely in the dark about what to expect from His Bad Blood, and what I found was a film that dealt with various themes, from the hazards of everyone knowing your business, to reputation, change and religion. It took turns that I didn’t see coming, and provided plenty of tone changes so that you never really felt weighed down by the discomfort, because it lightened thing up a little from time to time. It’s really something, and I thoroughly enjoyed it. A delightful film to look at, listen to, and watch unfold, this coming-of-age drama is both funny and harsh. I urge you to seek it out, once the chance arises.

**** 4/5

His Bad Blood screened on July 12th 2019 as part of this years Fantasia International Film Festival.

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