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After School
After School

Yo Oizumi, Takako Tokiwa and Masato Sakai stay After School.
Japanese: アフタースクール  
Year: 2008  
Director: Kenji Uchida  
  Writer: Kenji Uchida
  Cast: Yo Oizumi, Kuranosuke Sasaki, Masato Sakai, Takako Tokiwa, Tomoko Tabata, Toshiyuki Kitami, Goro O-ishi, Tatsuji Okuda, Hiroyuki Onoue, Akiko Monou, Baku Numada, Taijiro Tamura, Muro Tsuyoshi
  The Skinny: Kenji Uchida's follow-up to the impressive A Stranger of Mine is more of the same clever plotting and surprising twists the writer/director excels at. However, like his debut film, it's also slightly dramatically underwhelming.
Kevin Ma:

In 2005, young Kenji Uchida took the PIA Film Festival Scholarship and made the comedy-drama A Stranger of Mine, a clever and light-hearted comedy that was meant to surprise and entertain its audience, despite unfolding in the drawn-out tempo of an indie film. Taking a cue from the multiple viewpoints, non-linear structure made popular by Pulp Fiction, A Stranger of Mine surprised the Japanese film industry by winning three awards at the International Critics' Week section of the Cannes Film Festival, quickly turning Uchida into Japanese indie film's new golden boy. Three years later, Uchida brings back more of the same with After School, a more mature directing and writing effort that sometimes seems to be trying too hard to be clever simply for the sake of being clever. But at least it's still clever.

Given a bigger budget and more well-known actors, Uchida has crafted a more ambitious story that carries a bit of the non-linear structure he was so keen on playing with in his debut feature. The first half of the unfolds in a fairly traditional structure. One day, salaryman Kimura (Masato Sakai) goes missing after running off with a mysterious woman. As a candid cell phone snap makes it way to the top of the corporate ladder, private detective Shimazaki (Kuranosuke Sasaki) is sent to find Kimura by the bosses for reasons unknown. Eventually, Shimazaki finds Jinno (Yo Oizumi), Kimura's friend since childhood who's now teaching at their old junior high. Curious why Kimura was absent even when his wife was giving birth, Jinno begrudgingly helps out with the investigation.

However, this being a Kenji Uchida film, no one is ever what they seem, and every scene actually holds a clue to the deconstruction of the mystery. As the film progresses, Uchida gradually pulls away the curtain and reveals his scheme in an ingenious manner. Unlike the tiresome reveals of people surprisingly double-crossing everyone else halfway, the paths have already been laid out, and Uchida simply reveals the answers for us. Of course, this can be perceived as a weakness to Uchida as a writer because the audiences are essentially just witness to a show that dupes the characters who don't know about the complicated scheme.

But Uchida has put on a hell of a show, carefully laying out the nuances and the foreshadowing in the first half before the major second half reveal. Unlike A Stranger of Mine, in which the reveals don't amount to much of an ending, Uchida actually allows the twists to raise the stakes of the story, with all the reveals actually mattering in moving the plot along to a final showdown. And while some critics have accused Uchida of using his characters only as pieces on a chess board, he actually puts away his penchant for flaunting his intelligence by giving the final major twist of the film to his characters. The reveal, consisting of Uchida simply showing the rest of the opening scene, may just be another example of clever audience manipulation, but it also proves to be a surprising moment of poignancy.

On the other hand, After School will be immediately forgettable to those who don't buy Uchida's brand of tricky filmmaking. Despite having a plot that deals with corporate conspiracy, police and mobsters, the film's tone remains fairly light throughout (though not exactly comedic). Uchida's obvious intention is to simply please by taking the basic plot of a dark crime thriller and turning it into a show with constant winks at the audience. It assures the audience that they're in a safe place; that the good guys (whoever they are) will prevail, and all you have to do is sit back and enjoy the ride.

However, like any thrill ride, it's really only thrilling while it lasts. After proving his talent in building and deconstructing labyrinth plots with two films, it's time for Uchida to step back and actually prove his talent as a filmmaker. After School shows Uchida improving as a writer and a director, but he has yet to make anything that would leave a lasting impression on the audience for years to come. When he can finally balance smart writing and ingenious plotting with emotional gravitas, he will surely find the widespread recognition he deserves. As a fan of Uchida's work thus far, I wait patiently for that day. (Kevin Ma, Reviewed at the Hong Kong Asian Film Festival, 2008)


DVD (Japan)
Region 2 NTSC
Media Factory
16x9 Anamorphic Widescreen
Original Japanese Language Track
Dolby Digital 5.1
Various Extras

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