Berlinale 2023 Review: #MANHOLE, From Claustrophobic Horror to Social Satire

Nakajima Yuto stars in director Kazuyoshi Kumakiri's genre-bending psychological thriller.

Contributor; Slovakia (@martykudlac)
Berlinale 2023 Review: #MANHOLE, From Claustrophobic Horror to Social Satire

Post-pandemic cinema has developed a fad: one-man films.

After Willem Dafoe's solo performance in Inside, Berlinale welcomed another tale of a solo survivor, #Manhole. While Inside is a fiction debut, #Manhole comes from the established Japanese filmmaker Kazuyoshi Kumakiri.

Kumakiri has become known for focusing on marginalized individuals and exploring themes of identity, social isolation, and human connection. The combination forms the foundation of #Manhole. The film's protagonist, Shunsuke (Nakajima Yuto), falls down a manhole the night before his wedding.

Beaten, bleeding, and semi-concussed after literally hitting rock bottom, Shunsuke is left stranded in a claustrophobic space of disgusting sewage. In a swift fall, Shunsuke becomes a male damsel in distress, as the manhole, which has been out of order for some time, lacks a ladder.

The incapacitated protagonist is left to his own devices. But his odds of survival and actually making it in time to his wedding are boosted by man's best friend when in peril. It is not a Swiss Army Knife. It's a smartphone.


When calling friends and family fail, and after police cannot locate him, quick-witted Shunsuke comes up with a devious scheme that would be sociopathic, if it was not a last resort. The protagonist creates a profile on a Twitter-like social platform and starts live-tweeting about his situation. And becomes viral in a matter of hours, rallying strangers online.

Getting strangers to flock to his rescue has a tiny flaw. He pretends to be a damsel in distress to maximize his chances of becoming an overnight viral sensation as the so-called Manhole Girl. The plot thickens.

Kumakiri's psychological chamber (or manhole) thriller makes a jab at the involuntary hikikomori set-up, somewhat akin to Katsoupiss Inside engaging in an escape room scenario. Contrary to Katsoupis' hypnotic tempo, though, Kumakiri opts for more of an adrenaline ride.

The Japanese director gained recognition for his use of extreme close-ups and a sense of intimacy, and he uses formalism here for a claustrophobic nerve-wrecker. Fully aware of the potential pitfalls of storytelling in a tiny cramped space, and averting the cheap shots of retrospective narration, Kumakiri spices up the endeavor with grotesque and funny moments.

The director expertly builds suspense and expectation as the clock ticks down towards morning and more online people get involved in the strange case of a girl stranded in a life-or-death situation underground.


The ingenious second-act twist that Kumakiri pulls off is shifting the drama from a manhole onto social media. And the entire genre reframes from a chamber survival thriller to a social satire, as wild speculations start flooding Shunsuke's live feed. The bizarreness of current internet culture flashes on the tiny screen, even spurring stunts offline.

After the slow-burning and attentive first act, and the whimsical second act, which has fun skewering online behavior, trolling, and conspiracy theories, Kumakiri returns to the hole for a genre-bending finale. In nothing short of a double Shyamalanesque narrative pirouette, the director serves up fast action, melodramatic twists, and revelatory gore in the appropriately over-the-top, all-in manner of midnight cinema.

#Manhole is an inventive, genre-driven story at the intersection of society and technology. Kumakiri has a refined sense of satire in the age of digital natives, grasping the underlying sociopathy and dark psychology, as well as genre conventions. And he possesses the skills and imagination to rejuvenate them.

The film made its International Premiere at Berlinale 2023

Screen Anarchy logo
Do you feel this content is inappropriate or infringes upon your rights? Click here to report it, or see our DMCA policy.
Berlinale 2023JapanKazuyoshi KumakiriNakajima Yuto

Around the Internet