As one of the youngest filmmakers in Japan to emerge on the international stage, the idea that Daichi Sugimoto – born in 1993 – has released his first feature-length film at 23 is an impressive feat by many measures.1 Beyond this, pushing out a film in Japan’s current cinematic funding landscape – wherein big names are rewarded, money is scarce, and a fast turnover is stressed – is similarly admirable. With A Road, Daichi cuts a film together that is a few parts documentary, and a few parts fiction; whilst throwing himself in the starring role. In the end, it’s a work that strives for complexity – ambitious, and relatively thoughtful – whilst finding itself bogged down most of the time trying to achieve these aforementioned filmic goals.
Although the film opens and closes in the same way – in an earlier time, with Daichi looking for a lizard in his garden – the bulk of what sits between these two scenes focuses on a fictionalised Daichi in the present; torn between his tedious schooling life and the group with whom he rides with. Whilst many of the scenes at school and home find themselves giving in to cliché, those shot outdoor presents a different angle of Daichi; more at home both in playing his character on screen, as well as in his role as a filmmaker. He articulates generational ennui in the opening scenes, stating “I’ll work part-time jobs all my life” and “no chance of a career”, establishing an obvious lack of direction and angst that he wants to highlight in the character. That said, these same points are often made far more poignantly when Daichi says nothing at all; in scenes where he cruises a long on his pushbike, sits with his friends on a beach in dreary weather, and immerses himself in the rich scenery that A Road feeds itself on.
There’s a certain dichotomy between the freedom felt with Daichi’s bike friends – optimistic acoustic guitars, whilst they glide through the streets – and the claustrophobia that punctuates the other scenes throughout the film. The soundtrack highlights this fairly effectively, however, it simultaneously relies much more on cliché than originality in terms of the music selected. That is, whilst it’s mostly successful in articulating – or, perhaps, reflecting – the pacing of the film, most of the choices feel lazy; lacking a certain subtlety that certainly would have helped move Daichi’s work away from the amateurish nature that permeates much of the final product. The presence of home footage at the start of the work alongside more professionally shot scenes in the middle creates more dissonance than intrigue – with changes in form feeling less intentional than they probably are; coming off a lot more as disorienting and amateur.
Despite this, Daichi’s abstract approach to cinema – with the process of blurring between documentary and fiction; the present (as well as reflection on the past) reflects a certain potential in Daichi’s imagination; as a filmmaker with a vision in an embryonic film, struggling throughout A Road to effectively convey it. In the scene when Daichi espouses how he’s “supposed to take one episode of my life and put it on videotape”, there’s a statement of intent, but there’s also an indication of what Daichi’s film doesn’t quite pull off.
Attempts at dissecting the documentary and fiction form – as well as demonstrating a sense of self-awareness – are never really cleanly pulled off by the filmmaker; but the constant attempts throughout show a genuinely exciting sense of promise for films later down the track. On the back of a 1,000,000 Yen cash prize 2 from taking out the Pia Film Festival prize, Daichi Sugimoto is in a rare position as a younger filmmaker in Japan, with such recognition already. Whilst A Road fails to come together as a coherent film, the premise and concept that fuel it are fascinating and inventive; with Daichi clearly establishing himself as someone to keep a keen eye on in the coming years.