Media feeding frenzies and social shaming appear in Japanese films about as often as bad weather does on Mount Fuji. In his new film “Intolerance,” however, Keisuke Yoshida shows not only how the mass media and the local community react to a tragic and sensational death, but also how grief can blind the father of the victim to the humanity of others.

The English title certainly applies to the film’s protagonist, who cannot tolerate opinions or beliefs that do not align with his own. On the other hand, the Japanese title — “Kuhaku,” which translates as “Blank” — seems to apply to the father’s daughter, whose death reveals that she meant next to nothing to her teachers and classmates.

Based on his original script, Yoshida films this story with an unflinching directness similar to his 2016 “Himeanole,” which plumbed the motives of a psychotic serial killer, and this year’s “Blue,” a jolting inside look at professional boxing. “Intolerance,” though, is centered on ordinary Japanese, not violent or washed-up figures on the margins of society. True, the characters find themselves on the emotional verge as their worlds collide and crumble, but they remain complex individuals, viewed with sympathy, even when their words and actions become extreme — or simply wrong.

Intolerance (Kuhaku)
Run Time 107 mins.
Language Japanese
Opens Now showing

The father, Mitsuru Soeda, played with gruff authority by Arata Furuta, is a fisherman who bullies and belittles everyone, from his bumbling young crewman (Kisetsu Fujiwara), to his shy teenage daughter Kanon (Aoi Ito) and fed-up ex-wife Shoko (Tomoko Tabata). Then Kanon is caught shoplifting by a supermarket manager (Tori Matsuzaka) and runs. The manager gives chase, but just as he is about to stop her, she dashes into the street and is hit once by a car and again, this time fatally, by a truck.

Enraged, Mitsuru blames the manager, Naoto Aoyagi, for her death, while refusing to believe that his daughter was stealing. The media, which have descended on the town, takes his side. Meanwhile, Asako Kusakabe (Shinobu Terajima), a store employee with a secret crush on Naoto, rushes to his defense and stridently insists that the girl’s death was “just an accident,” but Naoto is wracked with guilt nonetheless. Unsure of how to handle the media, he gives an interview to a seemingly sympathetic reporter that is later edited to make him look and sound like a callous brute. His store empties and bankruptcy looms.

But just as the film teeters on becoming a familiar drama of one man’s lonely battle against an unfair trial-by-media, Mitsuru’s rage, which he unleashes constantly and reflexively, turns those who were once his allies against him. He contemptuously rejects apologies from Naoto and the car driver, while relentlessly badgering teachers at his daughter’s school to unmask her bullies, who prove to be nonexistent. His loss turns him into a monster.

All this may make “Intolerance” sound like a feature-length slog through a swamp of misery, but as Mitsuru begins, reluctantly and painfully, to see the truth, he starts to grow in self-awareness. Backed by Furuta’s layered performance, this transformation feels earned, while shedding a warming light on the real personality of a girl those around her barely knew when she was alive. Kanon, we see, was not a “blank” after all and this masterful film is true to the painfully long process of mourning, which can be like a journey to hell — and back again.

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