Director: Shinji Sômai
Screenplay: Yuji Kato
Starring: Yuichi Mikami, Yûki Kudô, Tomokazu Miura, Shigeru Benibayashi, Saburô Date, Tomiko Ishii, Kaori Kobayashi, Toshiyuki Matsunaga, Yuka Ohnishi
Running Time: 115 min
In a list compiled in the 90s, Shinji Sômai was picked by Japan’s premier film publication, Kinema Junpo, as the greatest Japanese director of the 80s. 5 of his 13 films were later also picked as being among the greatest Japanese films of all time by the magazine.
Typhoon Club was Sômai’s highest placement in the list of 200 titles and is often believed to be his masterpiece. It’s much loved in Japan, along with its director, but, despite Bernardo Bertolucci singing its praises (he was part of the jury that awarded it the Grand Prix at the 1st Tokyo International Film Festival) Typhoon Club has never had much of a release in the West, other than a few festival screenings. Much praise then must go to Third Window who are giving the film its first physical release outside of Japan, with their forthcoming Blu-ray, included as part of their new Director’s Company collection (please see my review of Door for more information on the Director’s Company).
Typhoon Club follows the trials and tribulations of a group of teenagers in the days before, during and shortly after a typhoon that hits their town.
Being on the verge of adulthood, the group suffer from the usual anxieties surrounding sexuality, the future and existential crises. When the typhoon hits, most of them find themselves locked in their school and they clash and bond, with the power of nature seemingly liberating them.
Meanwhile, Rie (Youki Kudoh) decides to run away from home, heading for Tokyo, where she finds freedom more frightening than she’d hoped.
It’s a simple setup that acts as a skeleton for a character study and an exploration of both the pain and joy of adolescence. The typhoon acts as a perfect metaphor for the foreboding, looming sense of what’s to come that fuels the emotions and anxieties of the young people at the centre of the story. When the group are brought together, these repressed, simmering tensions finally come to a boil.
It’s well-trodden territory, of course, but Sômai manages to present his coming-of-age story in such a beautifully relatable yet unique way that it feels fresh and vital, despite being released almost 40 years ago.
On top of shooting chronologically to make it easier for the young cast to develop their characters, Sômai didn’t want to interrupt the actors’ performances on set, so chose to shoot in long takes (plus this was his signature style). This kept the camera at a distance from the performers too, who likely didn’t have enough acting experience to give expressive close-up performances. Instead, the teenagers often express themselves through movement. Most notably, there are several key dance sequences (including an eye-opening one in the typhoon itself), as well as a harrowingly drawn-out scene of attempted sexual assault.
The camera isn’t simply sat fixed at a distance though (other than on the odd occasion). The placement and movement of the camera throughout the film are cleverly designed and beautifully executed. In this sense, whilst Sômai is part of a later, more modern school of Japanese cinema, he was clearly influenced by the classic-era director Kenji Mizoguchi.
Due to the lengthy, meticulously designed tracking shots, each sequence had to be carefully rehearsed and blocked, but improvisation was encouraged in the rehearsal process. This allows the performances to feel ‘real’ and whilst the relatively large cast can be a little hard to navigate at first, you eventually develop a bond with the youngsters in the film and feel for their problems.
The casting process was reportedly quite lengthy, taking around 4 months to find the core group of roughly 16-year-old actors. It was the debut performance of many of them and a number of the group never made any (or at least many) other films following this. Yuka Ohnishi won an award for her performance in Typhoon Club at the Yokohama Film Festival though and became famous soon afterwards.
There’s a lazy pace to much of the film, which might not be to everyone’s tastes. However, I feel it lets the film ‘breathe’ and adds to its natural approach. Typhoon Club is entertaining too. Whilst there’s an air of melancholy permeating the film, the teenagers still find time to goof around and tease each other.
On top of looking at the problems young people face growing up, there’s also a little focus put on adults. You get an irresponsible teacher figure here in the form of Umemiya (Tomokazu Miura), whose personal problems spill over into his classroom, causing an incident that seems to kick-start many of the neuroses of the young people.
The group’s parents are never seen though. One character, Ken, repeatedly says variations of “welcome home” in reference to wanting to welcome back his parents but they never seem to be there. As such, one of the core themes of the film seems to be that the negligence of adults is causing or at least failing to support the anxieties and suffering of the children they’re supposed to be nurturing.
Overall, Typhoon Club is a remarkable film that blends naturalistic young performances with striking cinematic techniques to craft one of the finest coming-of-age dramas I’ve ever seen. Here’s hoping we see more of Shinji Sômai’s films making it to Blu-ray in the UK soon.
Typhoon Club is out on 27th November on region free Blu-ray, released by Third Window Films as part of their new Director’s Company collection. The transfer is strong, with pleasingly natural colours and pin-sharp details in lighter scenes. Darker scenes are a touch murky perhaps, but it might be as intended. I’ve used screengrabs throughout this review, to give you an idea of what it looks like, though these have been compressed. I had no issues with the audio.
There are several special features included on the disc:
– New 4K digital remaster from the original negatives
– Feature audio commentary by Tom Mes
– ‘Controlled Chaos’ a video essay by Josh Slater-Williams
– Assistant Director Koji Enokido Talk Event
– Introduction by Ryusuke Hamaguchi at the Berlin Film Festival
– Slipcase with artwork from Gokaiju
– ‘Director’s Company’ edition featuring insert by Jasper Sharp – limited to 2000 copies
– Region free
Tom Mes opens his commentary by apologising for being a small part of the reason why Japanese films of the 80s have long been maligned by critics. He states that he now wants to help open people’s eyes to the gems made during that period. He does a great job, delivering a typically well-informed and fascinating track that delves into the state of Japanese cinema at the time as well as the lives and careers of those involved with making Typhoon Club.
In his essay, ‘Controlled Chaos’ (not a selected scene commentary as originally advertised), Josh Slater-Williams takes a more analytical approach, exploring the themes of the film and how Sômai uses his long take techniques to put these across.
In the ‘Talk Event’ included here, Koji Enokido, a regular assistant director for Sômai, discusses how the Director’s Company operated and his involvement with Typhoon Club. He talks about Sômai’s directorial style, his approach to the material and how he tended to be concerned with mood and atmosphere over narrative. Towards the end, Enokido also talks about the then-forthcoming restoration process.
Ryusuke Hamaguchi pops up too, giving a brief introduction to the film. He selected Typhoon Club for a coming-of-age strand of the Berlin Film Festival. He again talks about Sômai’s use of long takes, as well as the spirit of the film and how unique its style was. He goes on to describe how the film inspired his own work as a director.
Also included is a paper insert that provides a clear and concise history of the Director’s Company, which is handy.
So, Third Window have done justice to this extraordinary film with a well-compiled collection of extras. The release comes very highly recommended.