If ever there was a personification of “It’s not the Destination, it’s the Journey”, it’s Seiji Tanaka’s 2018 Millennial thriller Melancholic. Released recently in dual format by the pioneeringThird Window Films, this is a slow burn that bubbles and boils in tension until melting point.
Kazuhiko is a lacklustre and listless young graduate in modern day Tokyo. Drifting from menial part-time job to menial part-time job, poor awkward loner Kazuhiko is just not living up to the expectations of his doting parents. After all, Kazuhiko is a graduate of none other than the highly prestigious Tokyo University “Tokyo U.” (Fans of old school anime/mangaLove Hina will recognize this esteemed institution.) Surely a graduate of Tokyo U at this point in his life should be ticking all the boxes of Japan’s social conventions? Why is Kazuhiko not yet firmly established in a big corporation?
If you learn one thing from watching Melancholic, it’s that there are always other routes to job satisfaction and happiness. What does it matter if those other routes to a fulfilling life involve local Yakuza crime gangs, murder for hire and a life dedicated to cheerfully washing away blood from the tiles of your beloved bathhouse in which you now work?
Melancholic portrays a gritty, social commentary on Japan’s grim underbelly while (bizarrely!) also managing to be a whimsical, darkly deadpan finding-your-feet story of the Japanese youth of today.
This movie heavily reminded me of Natuso Kirino’s crime thriller Out. Both the characters of Out and Melancholic not only find themselves accidentally floating in to the world of organized crime, they actually find their own inner strength through their involvement in crime. This newly found inner-strength then empowers them to take positive control of their day-time lives.
Odd-couple friendships, love and joy bloom from the unlikeliest of places in Kazuhiko’s life. Humanity, warmth and kindness is shown from the most hardened of hired killers and a hardness is shown from the most outwardly warm. There are two sides to every story, and like Kazuhiko, not everyone involved in crime is there because they are inherently evil. Perhaps they are nothing more than society’s victims of circumstance?
The shaky hand-held style camera work of Melancholic provides a more intimate, immersive viewing experience. We feel like we are actually in the movie, witnessing the events first hand as they unfold. A part of Kazuhiko’s life. Initially, I was greatly annoyed with nearly all the characters and their idiotic apathy, but like in any great movie, by the end I held these bumbling losers in great affection.
A highlight for me that sums up the over-all tone of the movie is a beautifully touching scene involving Kazuhiko and his new found friends genuinely enjoying an impromptu picnic on the floor of the bathhouse as a Yakuza corpse burns in the kiln out back… How on Earth can a scene like that be beautifully touching, I hear you ask? You’ll have to watch for yourself and find out.
Special features on the Third Windows release include Behind the Scenes, Q&A with director and Cast and Melancholic Short Film – which is blood, hilarious and bloody hilarious.
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