DVD Review: Sai Yoichi’s 'Doing Time' R1 Disc

Associate Editor, News; Toronto, Canada (@Mack_SAnarchy)
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Doing Time is the autobiographical story of a man’s term in prison for illegal firearms possession. Based on his manga, completely formed from his memories after his three year term, artist Hanawa Kazuichi, director Sai Yoichi and lead actor Yamazaki Tsutsomu create a sublime picture of life in prison where the lesson learned may not be what is expected from a prison life themed movie.

Five inmates share a room. Their very schedule, activities and movements dictated to them under very strict rule and enforcement; from how many steps you take leaving your cell to getting permission to pick up an eraser or going to the bathroom. But despite this restricted lifestyle the inmates begin to find moments of pleasure in the most diminutive tasks and actions. While the inmates find incredible satisfaction from long battery life in their electric shaver or challenging themselves to make a targeted number of prescription bags before the time limit their greatest joy is reflecting on past meals they have had.

Food is the greatest joy of all for the inmates. So much time is spent reflecting on meals and food in this film that your stomach surrenders to the suggestion and you just got to eat something afterwards. But it’s not just in the prison setting that this passion for food rages on. If I didn’t know that food was already such a large and important ingredient of Japanese society I would have thought that the inmates were going mad. But I have watched Japanese television and seen entire episodes of game shows devoted to winning a prize which is food. Food that is captured on camera in a soap opera Vaseline on the lens so you get good lens flares kind of way. Food is very important to Japanese people, even more so to these inmates, especially the New Years meal.

Hanawa thinks he has the perfect life before he enters prison. He camps with friends and simulates military battles. He painstakingly fashions a .357 Magnum and when he shoots what I can only describe as a fibred bullet into a bottle of water he thinks to himself, ‘This… is happiness’. And he may have very well been right. Except now he finds himself in a new set of circumstances and now he must find something else to find his happiness in. Only now it is much more difficult because of the strictness and scrutiny of the prison system [doing someone else’s crossword lands you in solitary confinement]. And so begins Hanawa’s search for peace and happiness. And he relearns to appreciate the little things that bring peace and moments of happiness.

And you yourself catch yourself not appreciating the little things that this movie does when you’re waiting for something big, loud and flashy to happen because that’s what you’ve been trained to look for by big prison action movies or television shows. Suddenly, the viewer is also learning to appreciate the nuances and subtleties in Sai Yoichi’s film. The score is gentle and comforting. Sai shoots a very restrained film and captures much of the feel of the original manga by restricting camera movements and framing each shot as it was depicted by Hanawa in his manga. It is beautifully shot and you are reminded that film doesn’t have to be loud and abrasive and action packed to be fantastically good. Even the simplest forms of filmmaking can bring a viewer joy and happiness.

Then you begin to appreciate the little things in life as did Hanawa Kazuichi. Like the inmates in the film you’re watching the movie and you find yourself sipping your cola instead of guzzling it and nibbling your Pocky stick [in the film chocolate biscuits] instead of chomping down on it. And the question that remains is; are we too consumed with trying to see the big picture that we forget about the little things that make it up? Or does this film remind us that despite everything around us clamoring for our attention and happiness that the human spirit can detach itself from those things and we can still find joy in even the simplest of tasks, ideas and surroundings. It is far easier to happiness in those things than attempting for a larger ideal that may or may not ever be achieved. And how long will that happiness last if you ever get it, before you have to move onto the next big thing? Then the simplest of ideas, actions or surroundings, things that you would normally take for granted, suddenly have great weight and bearing on your life.

DVD Specs for reviewed disc:
Format: Color, Dolby, Widescreen, NTSC
Language: Japanese
Region: Region 1
Aspect Ratio: 1.85:1
Number of discs: 1
Studio: Parlour Pictures
Run Time: 93 minutes
Cast: Yamazaki Tsutomu, Kagawa Teruyuki, Taguchi Tomorou, Matsushige Yutaka, Muramatsu Toshifumi

English Edition R1 dsic at Amazon.com
English Edition All Region at Amazon.co.uk
Japanese Edition R2 disc at YesAsia

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feral catNovember 23, 2006 3:17 AM

I forgot about this being released, it sounds like it might make for a good bit of downtime watching. Boredom and being stuck in a regimental system are two things that really scare me. To be in prison in an already fairly regimental society seems like the kind of thing that would drive me insane, but at the same time it’s kind of fascinating. I like these films that give you a window onto something you would ordinarily never give much thought to.