Director: Takumi Saitoh, Naoto Takenaka, Takayuki Yamada
Screenplay: Yutaka Kuramochi
Starring: Riho Yoshioka, Ryuhei Matsuda, Fuku Suzuki, Yasaku Mori, Yurina Yanagi
Running Time: 103 min
Third Window Films have done it again. Their catalogue of quirky, original and generally fantastic Japanese cinema is ever-growing, and Zokki is another smash out of the park, an addition to their collection that is right at home with some of their best releases. Summing up Zokki and its many semi-interconnecting storylines is quite the job, but the general gist of what’s in store is as follows. The film’s five loosely connected storylines concern the secrets and lies, the fears and tears, and the puerile potty jokes that punctuate their daily encounters and experiences. Adapted from a manga created by Hiroyuki Ohash, and you can tell. There is a lot to admire here, from the beautifully simple visual style on display to the entertaining ways in which the stories stand out, and the film never once loses its way by attempting to connect the dots in a forced manner. This is quite a difficult release to write about as it’s simply one of those films that are best going into blind, as the little surprises weaved in and out of the many different storylines are just a joy to uncover and are a big part of the fun.
The problem I often have with the anthology/omnibus genre is that the filmmaking style from director to director is so different that it often makes the overall film feel a little misshapen. You’re almost guaranteed to have a weaker segment that doesn’t work as much for you as it may do for others. Thankfully, this is not the case here. Zokki genuinely feels like it was made by one director and one director only. There are no jarring stylistic clashes or thematic irregularities, it all flows seamlessly from scene to scene, and the connection between each storyline is often subtle but effective.
For example, early on, the film introduces a character played by Ryuhei Matsuda, who, unbeknownst to anyone, decides to hop on his bicycle and head south. He has no aim, no objective, going with the flow and seeing what gifts life brings him. He meets various characters on his journey to nowhere, ones that appear in and out of their own adventures, big or small. Some are funny, some are heartwarming, and in one instance, genuinely quite unsettling.
In the only horror-esque segment, directed by Naoto Takenaka, a father and son who have broken into a school late at night are faced by what can only be described as a sentient alien being. With echoes of the great Kiyoshi Kurosawa, the dread that is built from the lack of theatrics (aka, no jump scares or distracting CG) works tremendously well, and the entire segment could work well as its own piece. Shockingly, although this entire scene is completely out of field compared to the remainder of the film, it fits right in and even has a slight melancholic sting nearing the end – and this is what makes Zokki so fantastic.
As the credits rolled, I was reminded of the great Magnolia, another film with inter-connecting storylines and characters directed by Paul Thomas Anderson. In the final scene in which frogs are literally raining from the sky, the camera dramatically pans towards one of the main characters, who calmly states, “this is just something that happens”. Life is strange; odd things happen, good, bad, and unexplainable, but that’s what makes our existence so beautiful. The oddities we experience and the heartache we endure are all part of the ride, and we have just got to strap in as the characters do here.
Zokki is out now on Blu-Ray in the UK, released by Third Window Films. The picture and audio quality are just about as good as possible. No complaints regarding either.
This release also features a few bonus features:
• Interviews with all 3 directors
• Behind the Scenes
While the extras are nothing to write home about, the interview with each director offers interesting insights into their filmmaking styles.