Rebellious teens and social rebelliousness have been and are an oft used theme in movies though some of the most memorable works were products of the social unrest of the 60s and 70s, both abroad and in Japan. While a fair degree of such movies are still offered by the independent scene abroad, much of the spirited filmmaking pioneered by such filmmakers as Kurosawa Kiyoshi, Sono Sion, Tsukamoto Shinya, and Ishii Sogo in the late 70s and 80s has all but vanished in Japan. So, when a movie that recaptures much of the feel of those bygone days emerges, not just stylistically but in terms of its content, people take notice. That the director of this movie is a 20-year-old young woman, the youngest ever to participate in the Forum Section of the Berlin International Film Festival, is further cause for excitement.
Amiko is the story of a high school girl in a small provincial town who is absolutely convinced the Japanese have lost any sense of spontaneity. But a long conversation with Aomi, a popular boy in her class, has convinced her she has found her counter-culture soulmate and is positive this feeling was mutual. However, weeks and months go by without a move from him. It becomes apparent he’s no longer even in town. When Amiko finds out he has left for the bastion of consumerism, Tokyo, and moreover with her rival and the epitome of mass culture, Miyako, Amiko decides to head to the capitol and take Aomi to task.
Fundamentally, this appears to be a skewed teenage love story centered around how a young heart reacts to being spurned, the tumultuous feelings and subsequent conduct it causes are as varied as the the human beings who have been or are adolescents. In the case of Amiko–the movie and the character–her journey to Tokyo is an opportunity to lay out this character’s recalcitrant attitude including inner dialogue cum soliloquies which comment on the world around her for both comedic and satirical effect. Reviews and write-ups call writer/director Yamanaka Yoko’s take on the teen angst movie imaginative and invigorating. Despite some apparent imperfections, Yamanaka’s playful filmmaking may actually serve Amiko’s eccentricity (and perhaps reflects Yamanaka’s own spirit) while also revealing a genuine affection for and understanding of the rough yet inventive techniques of early indie filmmakers. The discovery of this new talent prompted Forum Section head Christoph Terhechte to remark: “I really hope that she makes more films because she clearly has a huge imagination and possesses a type of cheekiness and nonconformity that has become very rare.”
It seems the wait for what will come next thankfully does not seem too far off. She and her Amiko producer are developing a project titled Let Me Rest in Peace which won the Wouter Barendrecht Award [a cash award of HK$50,000 (approx. $6,400) dedicated to the memory of the late Wouter Barendrecht, the renowned film producer] at the 2018 Hong Kong Asian Film Financing Forum (HAF). If photos posted by Yamanaka on her Twitter are any clue, this new movie will further cement her reputation for odd and imaginative fare. Additionally, as with Igashi Aya, Yamanaka has also been selected to participate in Yamato U-ki’s 21st Century Girls therefore her developing fanbase abroad can look forward to a these new works.