Youths without moral compasses collide in unsettling ways in Yoshihiro Nagano’s deceptively off-the-cuff drama “Recreation.” Following in a long Japanese cinema tradition of tales of young people veering off the edge, the pic also marks Nagano as a significant filmmaker on the local scene, which has experienced a recent rise in maverick voices. Pic’s assured balance between its increasing tension and the cast’s casual manner should draw interest at adventurous fests, following a special mention jury nod at Vancouver.
At first, slacker high-schoolers Akira (Kazushi Hashimoto) and Hirokazu (Kosuke Koga) are into nothing more dangerous than watching highly questionable videos and asking twin sisters and pals An and Rin (actual twins Kana and Mina Yasutake) for forged final exams to boost their end-of-semester scores. But they’re aware that there’s somebody in the neighborhood who may be genuinely creepy and therefore,in their eyes, fascinating: Tachibana (Yohei Shindo), a young serial stalker who roams the neighborhood, startling girls by lifting their skirts and running away.
Nagano cuts between the group and the loner with calm but not overly schematic regularity, establishing a dynamic without telegraphing what’s about to happen. He appears to be willing to allow the tension to momentarily slacken, as during a long sequence in which the four search for unlocked bikes to steal — a favorite pastime. Akira expresses the weird logic that since he and Hirokazu have never been arrested for any of their petty crimes, they’ve never done anything bad.
But Akira decides to bring a fifth member into the gang — Tachibana — over Hirokazu’s objections. The heart of “Recreation” becomes the sharp back-and-forth between the guys and the emotionally warped Tachibana as they follow him, watching him carry on more stalking and attacks, until the three engage in low-grade street warfare that leads to terrible consequences.
There’s never a doubt that matters will go from bad to worse as these overgrown boys push beyond limits. Tension comes from the sense that this could happen at any moment, stoking the battles with a semi-improvisatory air amid the realization that moral limits are out the window.
Yohei is effective as a lad who has lost touch with any sense of boundaries, momentarily terrifying even the seemingly unflappable Akira and Hirokazu, whom Hashimoto and Koga ably bring alive with rambunctious semi-innocence and feigned jadedness. The Yasutake twins are kept too far in the background for their personalities to emerge, but at the end of the day, this is a story of how boys being boys can spell doom.
Tech package is reasonably good on a micro-budget, with Nagano handling his own vid lensing.