What happens when the coolest kid in school one day disappears without a word? How does the school react to his absence? Does the social hierarchy crumble or does life go on unaffected? These are the questions that The Kirishima Thing ponders through its exploration into the very fabric of society and the structures by which we are all bound.
Set within an ordinary Japanese high school, The Kirishima Thing explores the school’s social standings from all perspectives, implementing an innovative non-linear story-telling structure, jumping about to different views at different times. All of which highlights the astonishing unraveling of a society without its leader.
Kirishima is a character whose presence hangs over the film from start to finish albeit while the character himself may or may not have ever been on screen at all. His place atop the social hierarchy is evident, almost all of the students have some kind of connection with him or rely on him in one way or another, they need him so much that it almost verges on a form of worship. It isn’t any wonder why Kirishima would choose to opt out of this situation, regardless of what actually happened to him.
His absence slowly but systematically instills a domino effect that reaches everyone in the school in one way or another, some more so than others. The system moves to crown a new figurehead for their hierarchy in the form of Kirishima’s best friend Hiroki, where as other characters struggle with their repressed feelings and the desire to rebel against the system that binds them. The social shuffle occurs slowly but surely throughout the course of this film as we move between lives of different characters and come to understand their place in this world.
Perhaps the most interesting perspectives are that of Hiroki and Maeda, the new Kirishima and the social outcast respectively. Maeda rejects the system whereas Hiroki finds himself powerless beneath it’s weight. As the rest of the students position Hiroki as the new head of their twisted society, Maeda remains firmly planted at the bottom of the barrel where had always been and it isn’t until the film’s final moments that we see how freeing that can truly be.
In the film’s best sequence, Hiroki and Maeda meet atop the school’s roof following an all out rumble between the students affected by Kirishima’s disappearance. While the scene preceding it showcasing the student’s as the stars of Maeda’s zombie film is absolutely glorious and wholly satisfying, it is the scene that follows that truly hammers home what The Kirishima Thing is really about.
Hiroki asks Maeda if he will ever be a famous director or marry a beautiful actress, if he will ever make something out of his love of film and in the film’s most profound moment, Maeda simply says ‘No.’ He has enough brains to realize that such things are likely impossible and that while dreams are powerful motivation, they rarely come true. For Maeda, just doing the things he loves is enough. He is free from the expectations and weight of the system, it is Hiroki who is caged by them and he breaks beneath it, shedding a tear when Maeda tells him that he looks ‘cool’. Teary eyed he begs Maeda to forget him and the film ends as Hiroki desperately attempts to call Kirishima, to no avail.
The Kirishima Thing is honestly a masterpiece of Japanese cinema, with a remarkably powerful message behind it. Maeda’s obsession over zombie films largely parallels the world he finds himself in. These students are simply eating eachother alive. If they stopped and took a look at what they are doing, would it be any different? Likely not. The system stands, regardless of who gets swallowed up by it. Perhaps a most appropriate summation of the society comes from a line of dialogue in Maeda’s film, “We have the fight back, because we have to keep on living in this world.”
Through its exploration of social structure and a class-based system, The Kirishima Thing highlights not just the hellish trappings of high school but also manages to perfectly parallel society at large. This is a universal theme and it is something that we all find ourselves entangled in. Whether you were one of the cool kids or one of the outcasts, everyone has been a part of this structure and likely still find themselves within it. The Kirishima Thing just pulls the curtain back and shows it to the world.
With Daihachi Yoshida’s phenomenal direction, the film features a host of unforgettable sequences and astonishing imagery. It is beautifully filmed and features wonderful musical composition by Tatsu Kondo. The film has a distinct look to it and the setting of this ordinary Japanese high school is fully realized through excellent geography and cinematography giving the viewer a sense that they could simply walk through this school and know where they are going. That is a difficult feat to pull of but The Kirishima Thing does it with ease.
This is not just your average cinema going experience, the film will challenge your perceptions of the world and people around you. This is far from an easy watch, but it is a film that simply must be watched. As difficult a film as it is, The Kirishima Thing is a incredible unraveling of the fabric that makes up the world we live in, which will have you thinking introspectively long after watching.
The Kirishima Thing is a profound exploration into the utter-most depths of the human soul and while the world may not be ready for a movie like this, it is a film that this world needs, now more than ever.
The film aired as part of the Japanese Film Fest Encore, for more information of the Japanese Film Fest check out the official site here.