Life can suck sometimes when you are bullied in school…or, in Jumpei Taneda’s case, when you find out that you cannot have children.
Biola University’s Cinema & Media Arts professor and director Dean Yamada raised $5,000 through his Kickstarter campaign two and a half years ago. That money helped Yamada and his crew travel to Japan to shoot his first feature “Cicada,” which screened on closing night of the Austin Asian American Film Festival on Nov. 16.
Review by ChinLin Pan
“Cicada” focuses on elementary school teacher Jumpei Taneda (played by Yugo Saso). When Jumpei finds out he is sterile, he starts getting clairvoyant flashes that leads him to find cicada shells. Meanwhile, his sister Nanako (played by Hiroko Wada)’s son Ryota (played by Houten Saito) is being bullied at school. Jumpei, Nanako, and her gambling, freeloader husband Masaki (played by Jumpei Yasui) decide to throw Ryota a birthday party and invite all of his classmates except for the bully.
Worried about Ryota being bullied and determined to do something about it, Nanako meets with Ryota’s teacher and the stepmother of the bully. Nanako begins communicating with the stepmother and ultimately wants her to teach her son to apologize.
Family aside, Jumpei contemplates whether to tell his rock-star girlfriend Yukari (played by Hitomi Takimoto) about his infertility. At the same time, Yukari wonders what the next step in their relationship is, since they’ve been together for several years.
While all this goes on, Gankane, an elderly man who devotes his time to creating paper theatre—he draws on papers and narrates the story scene by scene—creates two stories that he wishes to tell children. However, his friend who owns a liquor store censors him and tells him to tell a story appropriate for children.
Family-oriented dramas are a hit and miss sometimes. You either like the character dynamics and the story or you realize you wasted two hours on a film that ultimately you don’t enjoy and doesn’t satisfy you in the end. “Cicada” was not this type of film.
In fact, “Cicada” is the family-oriented drama that other family-oriented dramas should strive for. Sure, there’s about four subplots going on and it seems dense sometimes, but it all comes together at Ryota’s birthday party. The heartfelt story has an interesting premise too. It makes you curious about the cicada shells and their role. Its on-point humor (thank you freeloader husband and paper theatre dudes) lights up the drama as well.
Yugo Saso masters the melancholy expression of loss in his character Jumpei. Subtlety is his forte. Hiroko Wada is a fierce tiger mom. She makes you appreciate all mothers who fight for their children. And Jumpei Yasui as the freeloader gambling husband is hilarious to laugh with. His character is definitely comic relief for the story and audience.
Japanese films tend to be frugal with the use of non-diegetic music. The main points where you hear music are when Jumpei has his clairvoyant flashes. However, silence works in the story’s favor. You don’t necessarily need a lot of intense, demanding background music to build up drama, like many films rely on. Also, a nod to director Dean Yamada for those great close-up shots of our characters: you really get to know the strengths and flaws of this family and their friends.
Don’t miss out on “Cicada.” Its thematic message with stay with you long after the credits.