Kai Hirokazu’s feature-length debut, Innocent 15, first came to my attention through its poster (below). A simple, photographic image of a young girl apparently sitting on a young boy’s lap, his face advancing on her’s, perhaps a first kiss, though somewhat unwillingly. It’s a moment simultaneously capturing youthful innocence as well as its loss. The mid-teens are turbulent time for most. The struggle to be “grown up” while still being treated as a “child” creates inner conflicts which often manifest in what adults regard as “rebellion”. However, on occasion, outside elements force youth to grow up which is the theme of Kai’s movie. As he explains why the movie is titled Innocent 15 at the Raindance Film Festival (paraphrasing): “The two 15-year-olds are in one sense ‘pure and unspoiled.’ But the world isn’t like that. There are horrible situations in this world like those depicted in the movie–no, worse probably exist–yet because they’re still ‘unworldly,’ such things are like scenery blurring by in a car window; they’re irrelavant to them. But slowly, the harsh world will encroach on their lives and they’ll come to do away with their innocence.” The synopsis reads:
This seems like a simple coming-of-age story about young love but as the film goes on, layers of the characters are peeled to reveal deeper secrets. Narumi’s home life is seemingly perfect; she’s happy pursuing her dreams of being a ballet dancer and focusing on school. All that changes when it’s revealed that her mother’s boyfriend has been abusing her sexually, and her mother knows all about it. Similarly, Gin’s home life is turned upside down when his single dad comes out as gay, explaining that he’s been in a relationship with a long-time family friend. Narumi and Gin find comfort in each other, but the time they spend together forces the truth to come out.
From the tragedies of Shakespeare to some of the more melodramatic or “xtreme” fare from Japan itself, this is certainly not the first “loss of innocence” story of its kind to appear in fiction. However, Kai’s explanation of the title suggests a more refined understanding that children confronted with having to deal with adult situations is not merely a loss of innocence, but also an opportunity to gain maturity. In this regard, Innocent 15 may provide a welcome alternative to what has come before.
[will replace with English subtitled version if one becomes available]