iSugio

Shady – Review

by Miguel Douglas

@isugoi

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Newly formed friendships are often rife with a sense of discovery and willingness to share one’s own interests with those whom they have just recently met. It is this essence of uncertainty and the unfamiliar that enlivens most individuals to seek out such relationships amongst strangers, finding the commonalities that bring them closer together as human beings as well as finding that special connection to one another. As such, friendship is often one of the most difficult aspects of one’s life to balance, especially when such personal interrelations begin to slowly veer away from simply friendship unto something entirely more emotionally investing. Do we truly know the individuals in which we call our friends? Working as his debut, director Ryohei Watanabe’s Shady is one film that tackles such a question, bringing about a rather suspenseful viewing experience that is as poetically mesmerizing as it is psychologically chilling.

Working through a rather simple coming-of-age premise surrounding two high school teenagers by the name of Misa and Izumi and their growing friendship between one another, Shady is a film that plays upon the conventions of friendship and how such a concept can change people in the most powerful of ways. Encompassing themes such as bullying, homosexuality, and the fear of rejection, the film eases us into an environment where the ordinary is slowly unveiled to be much more than what it initially appears to be and where innocence is steadily lost. Misa, played here by singer mimpi*β, is a young, shy girl who has no friends to call her own. She is physically bullied by a fellow classmate, is rudely dismissed as a ugly by the remainder of her peers, and only finds solace through her pet bird and goldfish. A chance meeting with another loner by the name of Izumi, played here by model-turned-actress Izumi Okamura, changes all this though. Izumi happily begins to pursue the admiration of Misa, with the two of them eating lunches together, hanging out after school, and doing homework with one another at one’s house. Misa slowly begins to improve her self-esteem because of this, but as their relationship unexpectedly continues to blossom into love, Misa begins to realize that Izumi is not exactly who she initially appeared to be.

With the invested emotions offered through their increasingly teetering and fragile friendship, Watanabe is quite successful in establishing a rather genuine relationship between the two girls in a manner that depicts them as friendless individuals simply wanting to find some form of companionship. With this in mind, Watanabe directs Shady with an effectiveness towards delivering a burgeoning sense of suspense, ever enveloping us as viewers into the rather harrowing developments shared between Misa and Izumi. We as viewers start to notice that something is amiss through subtle clues offered through Watanabe’s astute direction, with Misa and Izumi’s interactions between one another soon deteriorating into emotional confrontations in which we learn more about Izumi’s skewed past and her true reasonings for being a loner as well as attachment to Misa. mimpi*β and Izumi Okamura truly become absorbed within their characters, with both portraying an impeccable sense of vulnerability with aplomb that works primarily through the strength of the film’s narrative. Like Watanabe, both mimpi*β and Izumi Okamura are somewhat new to the world of film, delivering impactful performances here that would certainly suggest otherwise.

Watanabe’s unhurried pace in regards to the narrative may present the film to some viewers as unnecessarily prolonged, which is certainly understandable, but it also provides the film with considerable time for character development that nicely engages us into the personalities and mannerisms of the characters themselves. We learn important background traits such as why Misa gets picked on or why Izumi’s distorted past has shaped her into the individual we see within the film, for example. This in turn produces characters in which we can somewhat sympathize with given their delicate connection to one another, both as friends and as individuals, allowing us to see their emotional frailties that contribute to the eventual undoing of their friendship. The narrative works well in this fashion, with Watanabe continually showcasing the susceptible nature of Misa’s need for a friend, going as far as to showing her initially willing to turn away from the rather blatant allusive behavior brought about by Izumi. It all makes for a rather tension-filled viewing experience in which we know something is awry, but just can not put our finger on it until we are suddenly confronted with the horrifying conclusion, a conclusion that vividly enters the realm of the psychological, and to a certain extent, that of the philosophical as well.

As a debut film, Watanabe’s Shady is a work that appears far above that of a novice, both from the standpoint of its narrative and its technical elements. Watanabe’s ability to take a rather conventional coming-of-age story and contort it into a tale of increasing disheartenment is in and of itself rather impressive, and is certainly a testament to his ability as a writer and a director. While the film may not be for all – some of its content will be too despairingly for some – it showcases a general appreciation towards crafting a narrative that steadily enters us into the world of an unhealthy relationship with a sense of believability, as many other similar films unfortunately do not accomplish. This approach creates a substantially more unnerving overall experience, not knowing what to expect as to the destructiveness of Misa and Izumi’s apparent friendship. Shady is simply one of the better debut offerings to come about in quite some time, with it being a flourishing example of the talent of Ryohei Watanabe as both a director and writer, with this film hopefully being a great indication to a rather promising career.

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Author: Miguel Douglas

As an avid viewer of both Japanese animation and cinema for more than a decade now, Miguel is primarily concerned with establishing a critical look into both mediums as legitimate forms of artistic, cultural, and societal understanding. Never one to simply look at a film or series based solely on superficiality, Miguel has dedicated himself towards bringing awareness to Asian entertainment and its various facets.

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