The vicious underbelly of Japanese conformity is laid bare with stark realism in forceful but way overlong Japanese school-based drama “Fourteen.” Intensity of narrative and performances makes this a grueling watch, but deliberately somnambulistic pacing, echoing central protag’s psychiatric state, creates a viewing experience that borders on excruciating. Courageous fests will want to take a look, but commercial prospects are minimal.
Pic begins with a schoolgirl stabbing a female teacher in the back. Post opening credits and thanks to 10 years of therapy, the grown-up student Ryo (Akie Namiki) has become a junior high school teacher herself. A first-hand witness to the often violent cruelty of her charges and the inability of her overwhelmed colleagues to cope, Ryo, sympathetic and incredulous by turns, likewise becomes a target for student abuse. Lensing has the washed-out quality favored by Japanese indies, but Hiromasa Hirosue’s helming is considerably more polished and inventive than other pics of this ilk. Adult and teen thesps all deliver credible perfs, adding a compelling atmosphere to a film that will unfortunately tax aud’s patience to the max. Other tech credits are solid.
— Russell Edwards