Have you ever had a heart-to-heart with a bartender? I’ve often heard peers joke about how bartenders are basically therapists with a license to sell alcohol, and although I haven’t expressed my inner turmoil to any drink-serving strangers, the phenomenon is pretty widespread across the globe. What is it about bartenders that make people want to open up to them? Is it a combination of being in a familiar environment while buzzed and having a deep longing for unprecedented conversation?

This is only part of the premise of Reunion, a 2021 science-fiction drama directed by Jun Kitamikado. The film takes place in an unspecified future and follows a young woman named Mika, who awakens only to realize that she has no memory of who she is. The only reason she knows her name is because Doc, a male antique collector who is at her side when she wakes up, hands her a badge with her name on it and claims to have saved her life. Mika quickly notices that her legs have been replaced with metal scraps, à la Tetsuo: The Iron Man, prompting Doc to confirm that he put them together himself to allow her to walk.

Doc introduces Mika to “Reunion”; an intimate bar that exists outside of the space-time continuum, where people from different time periods come to visit. In order to time travel into this particular dimension, you need to get a hold of a “key”, which is a mouse-looking device that most visitors come across by accident. Ensuring her safety, Doc makes Mika the new bartender at Reunion, taking the place of the pleasantly peppy Yuri, who has worked there for one hundred years. Mika is instantly drawn into numerous correspondences with the lonely clientele that somehow found their way there. After learning so much about her guests, Mika becomes curious about her own past and embarks on a journey to discover it, despite the fact that Doc has warned that it could be dangerous.

The concept of the film alone was enough to spark my interest; even though the bartender-being-a-therapist quip is prevalent in most countries, it seems to hit differently in Japan. Japanese “host clubs” instantly came to mind while watching this film, with their main appeal being that they cater to those who are seeking attentive and often flirtatious conversation with their host or hostess. The popularity of these clubs only shows just how accepted they have become in Japanese society, and it begs the question of why these seemingly fabricated interactions are so in demand.

Although Reunion doesn’t directly tackle this question, it paints a pretty clear picture of how some of these interactions go down with each person Mika meets. Whether they’re visiting Reunion to temporarily escape their own time period or to find someone or something specific, there’s a veiled sense of longing that unifies them. Mika is exceedingly perceptive and empathetic, never failing to show her guests a smile and good hospitality, which is the reason why they open up to her so freely. This openness, of course, is what eventually inspires her own journey of self-discovery. Unfortunately, the film is very short, clocking at approximately fifty minutes, and only about half of that runtime is dedicated to the bar’s visitors.

The second half of the film explores Mika’s past or rather her process of discovering it. We are introduced to some very colorful characters, most notably Melda and Maia, two extremely fashionable cyborgs that serve to move the story forward. Their introduction in the film is by far the most visually memorable moment, and their performances are a joy to behold. The actress who plays Mika, Keiko Aizawa, also gives a solid performance, but although we do eventually see what happened to her legs, we don’t reach her full three-dimensional character depth. While I didn’t personally mind the absence of her fully detailed backstory, I can imagine that some audiences may be bothered by it. I believe that some stories work just fine with a level of ambiguity, and Reunion definitely falls into that spectrum.

The world that Kitamikado-san has created here is so wonderfully fascinating that I enjoyed the viewing experience regardless of some of the unanswered questions and specifics. While I do wish that some aspects of the story could have been explored a bit further, I realize that a budget can only take a project so far, and what they managed to pull off within the measly fifty minutes is sufficiently endearing. Reunion is a mesmerizing cyberpunk arthouse drama that will remain relevant as long as human interaction does not cease to exist.

We watched Reunion as part of the 2022 Japan Film Fest Hamburg (JFFH) line-up

Past Festival Coverage