Takumi Saitoh was boosted to stardom by the kind of soft-featured good looks that inspire many a schoolgirl manga, but he has had a more diverse career than the typical ikemen ("handsome guy") model-turned-actor. After playing a shy entomologist madly in love with a married woman (Aya Ueto) in the hit "Hirugao" TV series and 2017 film, Saitoh segued to a role as a space alien in the low-budget sci-fi splatterfest "Meatball Machine Kodoku." I could go on, but you get the picture.

A film nerd from boyhood, Saitoh has also directed several shorts. Last year his first feature, the enigmatically titled "Blank 13," premiered at the Yubari International Fantastic Film Festival, where it won the competition section's grand prize. The movie later toured widely on the international festival circuit.

Based on the youth of writer Koji Hashimoto, "Blank 13" begins as the latest in the long line of dark Japanese films about absent dads and dysfunctional families. But instead of going down the well-trodden path to florid melodrama, with blows and tears leading the way, the film morphs, midway through its 70-minute running time, into an actors' workshop, with sharp improvised turns by familiar names, if not ones that often head the credits list. Among the more promient: Jiro Sato, Sairi Ito and Jun Murakami.