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Berlinale 2019: Murakami Meets Linklater in ‘And Your Bird Can Sing’

If last year’s Burning didn’t quite scratch that Murakami itch, try And Your Bird Can Sing. The inspiration of the Japanese writer is all over this tale (based on the novel by Yasushi Sato) telling the story of three restless youths who have no idea what they are doing with their lives. It’s a fun and relaxed tale — think Ryûsuke Hamaguchi meets Richard Linklater — with important insights about being yourself before it’s too late. 

Set in the port town of Hakodate, the story sees our untitled hero — listed in the credits as “Me “(Tasuku Emoto) — as a classic slacker who works in a bookshop. Nothing seems to bother him; even when a thief nicks a book from the shop, he lets his colleague run after him instead. It’s one of those summers — one he believed, via voiceover, “would never end” — where it’s always warm outside, and the bars are always full, making such indifference to adult life actually feel kind of aspirational. He shares a flat with Shizuo (Shôta Sometani), a jobless alcoholic who lives off benefits.   

Together, the two of them recall Murakami’s early characters, like those in Pinball, 1973 and Hear The Wind Sing, whose main preoccupations in life centre around drinking beer, smoking cigarettes, and talking to girls. They’re still young and think this isn’t their real life yet; we’ll have plenty of time to turn things around, right? One girl, Sachiko (Shizuka Ishibashi), catches Me’s eye. She’s a pretty co-worker who digs his don’t-give-a-fuck attitude compared to the stuffiness of her other colleagues, most of whom seem to think that the service industry is actually a traditionally Japanese job for life.

The film’s charm can be found in its relaxed vibe. Our protagonists play pool, sing City Pop at karaoke bars, and attend rap concerts (it also has a blue-tinged-woman-dancing-by-herself-scene á la Burning). By really allowing them to be themselves, we get a sense of who each person is, and how they view each other. Instead of inserting them into an obligatory plot, full of obligatory conflict, the storyline emerges organically so that we can actually understand the decisions they make.

I admired the honesty and the purity of these creations. An Americanised version would have made Me secretly yearn to be a novelist, but he really is just a loser who doesn’t mind working in a shop. Likewise, Shizuo doesn’t really seem to mind living on benefits and doing basically nothing productive with his time. Not everyone in a coming-of-age story has to be the next James Joyce; sometimes it’s better when they’re just regular people who haven’t done anything yet. Only Sachiko seems to have ideas outside of her station — she’s the only one who reads a book every now and then. Me’s problem isn’t really his job, however — it’s his attitude to life, which may cost him the one thing he truly cares about…

This complicated love-triangle is gorgeously caught via widescreen. The use of widescreen is perfect for films centred around trios, as it allows all three characters to fit equally in the frame at once. Director Shô Miyake subtly uses this wide aspect ratio to suggest infinitesimal changes in dynamics, allowing the massive space to speak when the characters can’t. Elegant tracking shots, gathering everyone in the frame and allowing them to really talk to one another, give the impression of real life, as if we were really dropping in on these people’s problems. If only I could, I would have told Me a thing or two.

The 69th Berlin Film Festival runs February 7, 2019 – February 17, 2019. Visit the festival’s official website for more info.

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As far back as he can remember, Redmond Bacon always wanted to be a film critic. To him, being a film critic was better than being President of the United States

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