As festival director Gavin Liu mentioned, the selection thus far and for films to come are from directors who are either starting out with their rookie feature film effort, or into their second film. I suppose this clearly ties in with the theme of Youth as well, and not to mention that Bare Essence of Life stars one of teenage fandom's most versatile actors Ken'ichi Matsumaya. After all, he starred in the very popular Death Note series, as well as its spin off L: Change The World, and I believe his films thus far had always been relatively successful at the box office in Singapore, which accounted for the full house in today's screening.
But this film isn't the usual popcorn blockbuster that we normally associate Ken'ichi Matsumaya with, and through his performance here my respect for his spectrum of emotions got bumped up a notch. Ken'ichi plays Yojin, an eccentric organic farmer boy who stays with his grandmother and picked up his green thumbing skills through taped recordings of his grandfather, to varying degrees of success. If there was any movie character seen this year that exhibited similar behavioural traits, then it will be Shah Rukh Khan's Rizwan who suffers from Asperger's Disease. Yojin is equally impulsive, and possess this man-child quality that only Ken'ichi can make it both equally irritable, and lovable at the same time.
He's the ultimate unpredictable live-wire, and can invoke a vege-war should his ego be bruised. Being very popular with children especially when they play at his exasperated expense, Yojin's very routine nine to five life got disrupted by the introduction of a new kindergarten teacher Michiko (Kumiko Aso) into their town of Aomori. Yoji's heart stirs for Michiko, who had escaped from Tokyo to start life afresh, since her fiance and his secret lover had died in a fatal car accident, with the former having his head sliced off an never found. Talk about the bizzare that will be more bizzare as the tale gone on.
But not before seemingly looking like an against the odds romance story with two individuals brought together with the promise of a big scaled Potato Festival, having to spend quality time through their walks home, with one being infatuated with the other, and the other being nonchalant about the affections shown. A major incident then happens involving being buried in soil and sprayed with pesticide, where Yojin changes and becomes a more serious man with only traces of his child like demeanour left. The supporting characters of the limping principal, a psychic consultant and her gossipy grandchildren, Yojin's grandma and the doctor he frequents who has an estranged son, all make for small distractions from what's to come eventually.
I can't quite put my finger on the intent of the message in this film, nor the themes it wanted to touch on since the last hour became totally surreal and fantastical, and had this ominous air to it yet laced with a tinge of light black comedy. Yojin fuels his change with continued dousing of home-made pesticide which he believes will make him more normal for continued acceptance by Michiko, and seriously I wonder the lengths anyone would go to induce change just to be with somebody.
But that's not all. We see Yojin's interaction with a walking dead man (Arata from Air Doll, unrecognizable without his head). Then Yojin suffers from intense vomiting before turning into a walking zombie (no, it's not of the George A Romero variety that craves human flesh), and I thought it tried to talk about the evolution of life, since Yojin had broached the topic of evolution and the necessity for change if he was to continue in his relentless pursuit of his lady love.
But the final shot is the one that took the cake, involving the consumption of brain matter! It's insanely outrageous and will likely make you squirm from the morbidity of it all, even if the prop looked more plasticky-jello like and doused with generous doses of strawberry to make it more palatable. The tired mind of mine preferred to call it quits then and fully agree that it's indeed an Ultra-Miracle Love Story alright, written and directed by Satoko Yokohama.