Included in the Third Window Films release of Ryohei Watanabe's impressive debut is a brief but insightful interview with the young director. In the closing moments of the interview, Watanabe admits that he isn't entirely happy with every aspect of his debut feature, but he hopes that audiences will appreciate and forgive the first film from a young director. He needn't worry. Shady is a stunning debut from a promising talent, made at the tender age of 24 with a budget of £10,000.
It's the kind of movie that grabs a hold right from the outset, a captivating study of friendship that blows you away as the darkness sets in. Watanabe chose the title of his debut before he started writing, and he can't explain what it is that appealed to him about the word, but in truth, he couldn't have picked a better title for this bewitching thriller; a sublime tale of loneliness, deception and hurt. If Shady sounds a tad too bleak for your liking, fear not, Watanabe was inspired by Bong Joon-ho's Memories of Murder, another disturbing drama told with warmth and light relief.
Misa is ugly. Or at least, that's what she tells herself every day. She's a little bit stocky and her classmates call her 'Pooh', due to her unfortunate surname 'Kumada' (bear and rice paddy) and masculine frame. Her life changes when she meets Izumi, who says she finds it hard to make friends because all the other girls are jealous of her looks. She's a lively young thing, overflowing with warmth, energy and confidence. Misa is immediately consumed and the two girls become great friends, spending most of their time together away from class.
Like all new things, the novelty soon wears off, and Misa becomes suspicious of Izumi's obsession with all-encompassing friendship. It's Izumi, not Misa, who craves the attention of others, and it's her insecurities that start to push the two of them apart. When darkness and violence make their mark on proceedings, this cool and quirky tale of teenage friendship takes a vicious turn for the worse; a taut and terrifying thriller that doesn't hold back.
Shady won the Entertainment award and Cinema Fan award at the PIA Film Festival, and was nominated for Best Debut Film at the Raindance Film Festival. It's a compelling debut supported by two striking lead turns. Izumi Okamura (Izumi) and Mimpi*β (Misa) are mesmerising young talents, utterly convincing and engaging throughout.
The relationship that forms between the two characters is the films anchor, and the two girls are up to the task, forming an onscreen relationship both believable and fragile. Nothing about Shady feels forced or glamorised for cinematic effect, which makes the shift in tone all the more memorable as we head towards the devastating climax.
Japanese cinema isn't just about machine gun bras and lank haired demons. Watanabe's Shady is a welcome reminder of just how dreamlike, poetic and thoughtful Japanese cinema can be. What's more, unlike the extremities of J horror at its most absurd, Shady is beautifully undersold at every turn and all the more effective for it.
Powerful, gripping and ultimately moving, Ryohei Watanabe and his two leads deserve all the praise they get. Shady is one of the most accomplished movie releases of the year, a startling achievement and a stunning debut. Amazing.