JAPAN CUTS 2010: PARADE Review
Isao Yukisada's unsettling new film Parade at first plays like a sitcom about a bunch of roommates crammed into a tiny apartment, but eventually takes a much darker turn.
The action mostly revolves around that apartment, illegally shared by a group of people who represent a cross-section of Japanese youth. The owner of the apartment is Naoki (Tatsuya Fujiwara), a straight-laced teetotaler who works at a film distribution company, and who by all appearances is the most stable of the inhabitants. Less so is the unemployed Kotomi (Shihori Kanjiya), who spends most of her time waiting by the phone for a call from her distant actor lover, obsessively watching the soap opera he stars in. Aimless college student Ryosuke (Keisuke Koide) pursues a doomed relationship with his best friend's girlfriend, while Mirai (Karina), an illustrator with a seemingly permanent chip on her shoulder, spends her nights hanging out in gay bars, drinking until she blacks out. It is unclear how long they have been living together, but it is long enough for them to have fallen into a routine that accommodates their radically varying schedules and diverse personalities.
Other events happening outside the apartment occupy their attention. Their neighborhood is menaced by someone who has been killing women at night, but oddly this doesn't worry them as much as their suspicions of what may be some nefarious goings-on in the apartment next door. Their easy routine is upended when a mysterious blonde-haired stranger, Satoru (Kento Hayashi), suddenly turns up on their couch one morning. Hilariously, it takes them awhile to figure out that he is indeed a stranger, and not really connected to any of them. Satoru nevertheless is allowed to stay there, despite the other roommates' suspicions about him and what he does when he is out of their sight.
More than simply a cheap and convenient living arrangement for this motley bunch, the apartment and its inhabitants form a universe in which all who live in it are symbiotically connected to and dependent on one another. One of the great strengths of Parade is how slowly, subtly, and carefully Yukisada builds up the world in which its characters live. Naoki at one point mentions a "multiverse," a set of multiple universes, and the form of the film itself reflects this idea.
By continually shifting the focus to give us each principal character's perspective on events, Yukisada vividly details how each character's personal universe converges to form the cosmos represented by their apartment, in which many secrets dwell. And in the conclusion, which demonstrates how thoroughly appearances can deceive, what seems at first to be mere friendship or economic dependence proves to be something much more disturbing: a conspiracy of silence that nurtures, shelters, and absorbs any sort of behavior, however destructive or violent.
Parade, based on a novel by Shuichi Yoshida, is a film that very gradually gives up its secrets, initially coming across as so loose and episodic as to be nearly formless. But Yukisada insinuates us into its world and keeps us intrigued with the sense that however light and airily comic this material may seem on the surface, things are just ever so slightly off kilter. The cast is uniformly excellent, and Yukisada's visual style makes great use of its main setting, subtly varying angles and perspectives so that it seems to be a far bigger space than the tiny apartment it is supposed to be. Parade's final scene, in which the camera slowly zooms out of the apartment window with all the characters seemingly frozen in place, leaves one with a chill from all that it implies about how the serenely "normal" surface of modern Japanese life covers something much more sinister.
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