Film / Reviews

'Minori, on the Brink': An unusual take on confrontation

by Mark Schilling

Contributing Writer

The Japanese, it’s often remarked, try to avoid the sort of extreme, in-your-face confrontation more common in the West. A road rage incident became national news here recently because its violence — one party punching the other in the face through an open car window — seemed so rare.

What then to make of Minori (Minori Hagiwara), the laser-eyed protagonist of Ryutaro Ninomiya’s film “Minori, on the Brink”? Early on, we are introduced to two louche guys, Kei (Keitoku Ito) and Chihiro (Koutatsu Terabayashi), chatting about a recent konpa (mixer), as their chubby blonde acquaintance, Hirose (Yuki Hirose), listens. Two girls show up — and one, Minori, is steaming mad over Kei’s sexist behavior towards her nervously smiling friend Rieko (Rieko Dote) at the konpa. She kicks him, he pushes her and she shouts out “rape.” We are, we realize, not in another Japanese film where women stoically endure abuse from men.

Scripted by Ninomiya and produced by Enbu Seminar, the acting and directing school that also made the horror-comedy smash “One Cut of the Dead,” “Minori, on the Brink” might be Japan’s first film of the #MeToo era, reflecting the part of the movement that is vocally and fearlessly fed up with male privilege. (The part that is publicly exposing and suing famous and powerful men is beyond even the formidable Minori.)

Minori, on the Brink (Ojochan)
Rating
Run Time 130 mins.
Language JAPANESE
Opens NOW SHOWING

And yet, Minori is no lone feminist warrior, ever fierce in her outrage. She is close friends with the nonconfrontational, perpetually apologetic Rieko. And, at age 21, she is a high school graduate living with her easygoing grandmother and working as a server in a cute cafe-cum-ramen-shop in Kamakura. She is, in many ways, ordinary.

Where does the anger come from? One cause: Men are constantly hitting on her — and she has become beyond annoyed with the unwanted attention. But she has not sworn off men entirely. When a co-worker, Moe (Moe Ueda), asks her for her type, she says, enigmatically, “Guys who look lonely.”

As the film moves episodically along, with storylines that involve Minori little or not at all, we start to see a larger theme: the lack of meaning or purpose in young adult lives. Many of the characters, Minori included, are drifting through the days and some, like children, commit mischief — or worse — out of boredom. This does not always make for riveting viewing with some scenes being little more than actors’ workshop exercises. (The film, in fact, emerged from an Enbu workshop for aspiring actors.)

But Minori’s intensity draws attention the way a magnet attracts filings, even when she is politely, if pointedly, quizzing a friendly shop regular about his work (professional pachinko player) and family (wife and young daughter).

And her raw honesty can ignite explosions. When a would-be suitor professes his love for her on the street, her blunt response (“I just wanted to have sex”) drives him to name-calling fury. “Apologize,” she says, her own anger more than matching his. And I wanted to cheer.

There is more to newcomer Hagiwara’s performance than eyes that could drill through steel (or reduce sexist men to sputtering rage). She also brings out the character’s softer, less certain side without diminishing her power: Her Minori is all of a triumphant piece.

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