Review: ‘Harmful Insect’

The painful vulnerability and unease of adolescence have been the subject of innumerable Japanese dramas of recent years, and while "Harmful Insect" assembles more tangible plot factors than many of them to justify the emotional limbo in which its introverted teen protagonist dwells, director Akihiko Shiota's frustratingly oblique approach makes this a remote, unaffecting entry in the overstocked library. An exceedingly slow mood piece told in a familiar Nipponese-minimalist key, this bug has too little sting to propel it beyond scattered festivals.

The painful vulnerability and unease of adolescence have been the subject of innumerable Japanese dramas of recent years, and while “Harmful Insect” assembles more tangible plot factors than many of them to justify the emotional limbo in which its introverted teen protagonist dwells, director Akihiko Shiota’s frustratingly oblique approach makes this a remote, unaffecting entry in the overstocked library. An exceedingly slow mood piece told in a familiar Nipponese-minimalist key, this bug has too little sting to propel it beyond scattered festivals.

Junior high student Sachiko (Aoi Miyazaki of “Eureka”) has her reasons to be glum. Her suicidal mother (Ryo) can’t function without a man, her father abandoned them, and her beloved sixth-grade teacher, with whom she had an affair, was shamed into retirement. Shot from low, withdrawn angles and punctuated by written texts from Sachiko’s correspondence with the teacher, the drama follows the girl as she takes up, after dropping out of school, with a pair of city misfits. But when a concerned classmate (Yuu Aoi) reaches out to her, Sachiko snaps, triggering a switch from soundtrack silence to thrashing guitar as she lashes out against the world.

Harmful Insect

Japan

Production

A Nikkatsu Corp./Tokyo Broadcasting System/Sony PCL production. (International sales: Nikkatsu Corp., Tokyo.) Produced by Hiroyuki Negishi, Takashi Hirano. Executive producer, Masaya Nakamura. Directed by Akihiko Shiota. Screenplay, Yayoi Kiyono.

Crew

Camera (color), Tokusho Kikumura; editor, Yoshio Sugano; music, Number Girl; art director, Toshihiro Isomi. Reviewed at Venice Film Festival (competing, Cinema of the Present), Sept. 6, 2001. (Also in Toronto Film Festival – Contemporary World Cinema.) Running time: 91 MIN.

With

Aoi Miyazaki, Seiichi Tanabe, Ryo, Yuu Aoi, Yusuke Iseya.
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