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Amiko
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by Jay Seaver

"Teenage blues straight from the source."
4 stars

SCREENED AT THE 2018 FANTASIA INTERNATIONAL FILM FESTIVAL: "Amiko" is, as you might expect and hope, as raw and sometimes offbeat as you can get; its 19-year-old director is close to the material and hasn't had much formal training, and as a result the movie sometimes gets shakier as it gets more daring. But that's maybe the only way for a movie to truly get into the head of a teenager; you can't expect those stories to be polished.

Its title character (Aira Sunohara) has had a crush on Aomi (Hiroto Oshita), one of the school's star soccer players, for about a year as things start off, ever since he ducked into the classroom where the girl was biding her time while most of the other kids participated in club activities to change. They walked home, having a long conversation that clearly meant a lot to Amiko, but didn't speak again, and after fourteen months, Amiko is shocked by the revelation that he has not only started dating Mizuki (Ayu Hasegawa), a popular girl who graduated a year earlier, but dropped out of school and moved to Tokyo with her. With some help from her best friend Kanako (Maiko Mineo), Amiko is going to find some answers.

Pointing out how close director Yoko Yamanaka is to her main character is kind of a crutch in terms of analyzing this movie, but it probably shouldn't be minimized, either: There are maybe two people over the age of twenty-one in the movie, and they're not truly characters the way Amiko and her classmates are. More importantly, though, is that there's never the distancing effect of looking at these kids from the outside or from the remove of excess maturity. Amiko and Kanako talk about social media and the way they see boys in a way that may seem opaque to, say, older male film critics, but Yamanaka doesn't show any impulse to explain it, justify it, or apologize for it. There's a feeling of rage that emanates from Amiko when a pimply girl gossips about Aomi and Mizuki, for example, and it's not something that Yamanaka treats as some teenage girl thing, but something totally natural.

Not that these characters, Amiko especially, are particularly difficult to get a handle on - Amiko talks plenty, both to Aomi and Kanako and in her own head. She's got a nifty voice, detached and talking about what's around her like an outsider but also only rarely putting herself above it; there's a bit of a judgmental and sardonic streak to her but it's easy to see that she's not really as cynical and dismissive as Aomi can be. Aira Sunohara gives a neat performance in the role, handling Amiko's teenage mood swings without seeming unstable, making the smiles as genuine as the anger, and getting a lot out of the character whether she's silent and observing or rattling off a big inner monologue.

This seems easy enough during the first half or so of the film in Nagano, when it plays as teenage slice-of-life drama, although things get a little more off kilter during Amiko's stalker adventure in Tokyo. There's a song-and-dance bit that doesn't make a whole lot of sense but is delightful, and there are times when it's natural to wonder whether Yamanaka and company are engaging in some guerrilla-style filmmaking where they couldn't necessarily get the most steady shot or best line reading. A lot more people suddenly seem to be making their first movie, and it doesn't just feel like an expression of adolescent nervousness.

But that's okay - it is also that, after all. There's messiness to the way Nakamura ends her movie, but there's also the promise of a girl being a little older and wiser without part of her being broken, and I'm very curious as to how that will cross into her future work.

link directly to this review at http://www.efilmcritic.com/review.php?movie=32394&reviewer=371
originally posted: 07/23/18 01:31:04
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OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2018 Fantasia International Film Festival For more in the 2018 Fantasia International Film Festival series, click here.

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Directed by
  Yoko Yamanaka

Written by
  Yoko Yamanaka

Cast
  Aira Sunohara
  HIroto Oshita
  Maiko Mineo
  Ayu Hasegawa
  Miayu Hirowatari



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