The Kirishima Thing – Review

by Miguel Douglas


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The Kirishima Thing tells the story of two high school students who cross social boundaries between the elite and lower class at their school. Ryoya Maeda, from the lower class, is a member of the film club, while Hiroki Kikuchi, from the elite class, is a non-participating member of the high school baseball team.

Based on author Ryo Asai’s novel of the same name, The Kirishima Thing presents a telling tale concerning the social classism that exists between various students situated within a Japanese high school. While such a premise is certainly not unfamiliar to the realm of Japanese cinema, the film applies a creative approach towards a narrative awash with sincere explorations of the most accustomed functions of high school life—dating, jealously, rivalry, friendship, sports, and the like—all culminating in a profound statement on how social barriers often prevent us from being true to ourselves and how we are defined as individuals through such barriers.

A film such as this could have easily fallen to the wayside, once again entering the cinematic territory of easily forgotten and hackneyed high school melodramas, but director Daihachi Yoshida does an impeccable job at uniquely constructing a narrative that both successfully showcases the interconnecting nature of the film’s characters as well as establishes considerable tension throughout regarding their interactions and choices. The use of intertwining sequences surrounding a single day being told from the perspective of various characters is a reoccurring motif that allows us as an audience to see how each social group views the same event. We slowly begin to view how each group unknowingly influences one another, bringing us into a world in which emotions weight heavy and conflict remains ever so present as the various social groups collide after the disappearance of the illusive Kirishima, the film’s title character.

And for a character whose name is in the title of the film, Kirishima can be viewed primarily as an allegorical take on the notion of freeing oneself from the confinement and complacency within a social structure that assigns individuals based upon likes, interests, and perhaps most importantly, that of extracurricular clubs. As an individual, we see that Kirishima has done the unthinkable—he has quit his position as team leader of the boy’s volleyball team. Because of his decision to quit and his surprising absence from school, Kirishima slowly becomes akin to a mythological figure than an actual person as the film progresses. Most if not all the characters within the film are looking for Kirishima to make his return to school, with him becoming a symbol as the one who has successfully escaped from—at least for the time being—the very social system that seemingly benefitted him the most. His influence on the characters throughout the film is immense, sparking a hope that the dissipation of hurtful social barriers can become a reality if only individuals make the choice to do so—all the while placing the school in an utter state of disarray.

In consideration of the film’s somewhat elaborate narrative structure, one has to constantly pay ample attention to the subtleties that the film offers. This is definitely not a film in which viewers can lazily observe, and with numerous characters each taking the spotlight, it is also a film that may be difficult for some viewers in terms of connecting the dots. But given that the film does have a wide array of characters, we see the two that the film mostly adheres to, Ryoya and Hiroki, as two students who are essentially from two very different social groups. The film slowly unravels their discernments regarding breaking away from the traditional mold. This is perhaps most appropriately seen in the likes of Hiroki, who doesn’t belong to any extracurricular club and is seen aimlessly searching for some meaning. We also see Ryoya as someone who uses film as an outlet in which to explore his suppressed rage as being labeled an outcast at school, finding a space in which he can finally be himself. We receive small glimpses as to where certain elements within both of their lives are pulling them towards, coming to a head after a rooftop altercation leaves them—specifically that of Hiroki—ultimately questioning their place in life.

Offering a rather distinct look into the traditional high school environment, The Kirishima Thing starts out as a rather simplistic tale that slowly develops into an intelligent social commentary on freeing ourselves from social constraints. While the film does take some time to bringing about an emotional punch, Daihachi Yoshida does a wonderful job in bringing about a complex narrative that keeps one guessing as to what will happen next. And while the technical prowess of the film is noteworthy to the say the least, it is the young cast who deliver convincing performances that is the film’s greatest strength. With a narrative that seemingly peers into the day-to-day lives of its characters, the young cast all genuinely offer fitting performances that reflect their characters’ social standings. The Kirishima Thing is a perplexing film that may take multiple viewings to completely comprehend, but it is also one that earnestly questions the social boundaries that we may reside in, seeking to question how we interpret such boundaries.

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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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