Review: Anohito (2015)

A true tale of honour, longing, loneliness and family.

Marking the directional debut of one of Japan’s most famous producers, Ichiro Yamamoto, Anohito is a film about life during World War 2 in Japan, imagining a world where the conflict still rages on until the 21st century. It follows a cast of eleven characters, all from one small town, and how their lives have been affected by the ongoing war and what life is like in everyday Japan during this time.

We got the pleasure of seeing this film just a few short minutes after seeing Kijinken Saki and as we entered the screening room we were introduced to the film by Dr. Ono Hiroyaki who gave us a glimpse into the history of the movie. He told us how the script had been penned in 1944 and was left unproduced due to its anti-war themes and feelings. The script had only recently been found in 2011 and once found Yamamoto decided to turn the script into the movie it was meant to be.

The movie is in complete black and white using a RED 4K camera and shot in the traditional Shochiku style, known for kabuki and being the first company to begin to use female actors. The first thing that I think when taking in the film is the beauty and simplicity of the set and way in which it is shot. It is crystal clear and instinctively you feel as if you are watching a film from the 1940’s in the best way possible. I am not usually a fan of black and white films and feel they have not been done well, especially in modern times, but this film is a gem. If it were not for the moments of modernisation hinted at in the film (dates on calendars, and the use of a tablet) you would have no doubts that this film was set in the past, and because of this it’s almost shocking when those modern things are shown. It’s refreshing and completely overwhelming as well as being astounding to look at.

On to the acting, as I have mentioned above there are eleven characters, introduced at different times to the story. Firstly I would like to talk about the Little Commander (Ono Hidenori), a child who is being looked after by four men who take responsibility for the seven-year-old. He is a wonderful actor and surprisingly had no training whatsoever. He speaks his lines clearly, is fluent in his actions and is pure joy to watch, proving to be a real natural behind camera. By his side and taking the supporting lead roles are four men and an older gentleman (Washio Naohiko, Sugiyama Ajiho, Nakajima Boiru, Takako Ueno, and Ono Hiroyaki).

Each of the characters have very distinct personalities and quirks about them making each one memorable, be it limping, parroting, having weird sniffing habits or foaming at the mouth. It makes the characters instantly more likeable or at the very least noticeable. I found it refreshing to have such different personalities as it is all too common in cinema to have carbon copies of distinct personality types that get used over and over; this film did not fall into that problem. The women are introduced bit by bit into the movie, and are each just as interesting and different as their male counterparts. The acting is superb and worthy of applause; I found it incredibly easy to watch and all too disappointed once it was over.

The story is remarkable with an all too important message about war, families, and honor, which if I am honest can be missed if you are not informed on the main themes, but you could figure out if you think about it. All too often we see films set during the war about what it’s like amidst all the chaos, but rarely about what life is like on the outskirts in everyday life, which is what made this film so charming.

I enjoyed this film way more than I can credit in words and will undoubtedly be buying it if (fingers crossed) it comes out in the UK. I would recommend watching it for so many reasons, but ultimately if you are a true fan of film this isn’t one to miss. My only downside is that it wasn’t longer. By no means was it a short film, but I was so invested and engrossed that time just flew by.

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