Ryusuke Hamaguchi’s Eco-Thriller Evokes Chills And Disharmony [NYFF 2023]


Shot with matter-of-factness, the town meeting packs in a wealth of community characterization (the defensive elder, a Udon shop owner who relies on the freshwater for business, a younger member tempted to commit physical violence). The villagers are asking the right questions. Where is the actual leadership of the glamping project? Why isn’t the executive there in person? Why send the pawns to absorb all the heat? A protestor correctly assesses that they’re accelerating the project to meet a deadline for pandemic subsidies. The dialogue lays bare the utter farce of the company trying to save face, though it feels inevitable that the glamping project will force their way.

Hamaguchi also illustrates the middlepersons — the pair of agents, Takahashi (Ryuji Kosaka) and Mayuzumi (Ayaka Shibutani) — caught in the waves while the project’s executive gets to sit back and not interact with the human faces. That’s not to say the agents’ conscience is untouched or that they lack a soul. Despite Takahashi and Mayuzumi’s complicity as cogs in the machine, Hamaguchi devotes a conversational car ride to humanize their personal lives. Their chattering evokes the more lighthearted conversations in Hamaguchi’s “Wheel of Fortune and Fantasy” anthology, and this empathetic framing suggests that each of them deserves a better life than existing as disruptors to the village.

But beholden to their boss and their paychecks, the two agents drive to Takami’s house to offer him the groundskeeper position at the glamping site. It’s a disingenuous attempt to buy him off and legitimize the project. Their meeting leads to a revealing interaction. Mesmerized by Takami’s woodcutting (replicating the aforementioned opening in a long take and full shot), Takahashi asks to chop the wood. We observe as he comedically fails to emulate Takami’s woodcutting. Then Takami’s guidance allows Takahashi to successfully chop a piece of wood. Takahashi lets out the funniest, yet irksome, line “That felt good!” like a privileged city boy who thinks he has achieved catharsis and conquered nature in one chop.

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