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This World of Ours
  |     review    |     notes     |     awards     |
Satoshi Okutsu
Japanese: Ore Tachi no Sekai
Year: 2007
Director: Ryo Nakajima
Writer: Ryo Nakajima

Satoshi Okutsu, Yoshihiko Taniguchi, Arisa Hata, Ren Murakami, Shinmon Akaho, Natsu Kasyu, Taketomo Ogawa

  The Skinny: A major winner at the Pia Film Festival in Japan, Ryo Nakajima's debut work is a complex and powerful film that may not be for everyone, but definitely signals a major talent of the rise. Look for it at a film festival near you.
Kevin Ma:

     Like several other reviewers on the Internet have done, I sought out a copy of This World of Ours by Ryo Nakajima after it won three awards at the Pia Film Festival, long considered as a launching pad for successful young Japanese directors such as Lee Sang-Il (Hula Girl) and Yoshimitsu Morita (Lost Paradise, the latest Sanjuro remake). Nakajima started the script when he was a 19-year old hikikomori, isolating himself in his own room for over six months. The result of those beginnings is an intense and personal work of great impact that may not be everyone's cup of tea. But those who take a look are guaranteed to be rewarded.
     The film features three somewhat-connected narratives involving three characters: Ryo (Satoshi Okutsu), a bully who hits an emotional rock bottom when his victim decides to fight back; Hiroki (Yoshihiko Taniguchi), a college student who talks about changing the world despite struggling to conform to society and those around him; and Ami (Arisa Hata), an isolated girl possessing a secret who enters the lives of these two characters as an instigator and potential victim. As the film progresses, they become outcasts in a society that forces them to play along, pushing them against one another, until a final climax that is not unlike the film's opening shot: a blurry shot of New York City's World Trade Center engulfed in flames. As ambiguous as it seems, the film's episodic and interconnecting narratives sometimes defy structured prose. At least I can guarantee that it's clearer when seeing the film.
     In e-mail correspondences, Nakajima said to me that one of the jury members at Pia criticized his film for lacking any "human love". That is true in some ways, considering that This World of Ours doesn't tell a story that can be easily absorbed. However, "lacking human love" is a bit unfair, as Nakajima tells his story with a sense of passion for both the film and its characters. Nakajima deals with tough issues - self-mutilation, gang rape, bullying, and even terrorism. As a result, traditional "love" may be a little hard to find, but it's there in rough and tough form.
     Stylistically, the writer/director/editor juggles his stories with a surreal realism that is reminiscent of Shunji Iwai. Despite being a feature film by someone that is only in his mid-twenties, the film possesses subject matter that is handled with surprising maturity and complexity - though the monologues get a little heavy-handed at times. Like many young directors, Nakajima's visual style sometimes overwhelms, with the canted angle being used constantly throughout, and the third act possessing uneven pacing. However, those techniques may have been a way to mask various production limitations. Nevertheless, the director creates a film that feels and plays like a personal urban epic, despite a running time of barely 90 minutes.
     The film is shorter than an Adam Sandler comedy, but This World of Ours packs a ton of serious themes into its running time. Before the film turns into yet another statement on high school bullying in the first 10 minutes, it thankfully takes an unexpected turn in a different direction, as the film's actual narrative begins to move away from the conventions of a typical "social message" film. The world of Nakajima's film is ugly, filled with unexpected dangers and few people to root for, including its protagonists. This makes the film hard to become involved in at first, but as the main conflicts begin to show their form, so do the characters' appeal. They end up doing destructive things to themselves and others over the course of the story, but Nakajima never portrays his three protagonists as helpless victims, but rather as people who struggle against society without achieving much success. That inability to take control of their lives eventually brings us to their side.
     While other reviews on the Internet have used a string of verbal diarrhea to try and deconstruct the film and its themes, I feel it's unwise to do that here, as some films are best left to the audience's own interpretation. This World of Ours has a very simple message, that teenage life sucks in many ways, but it tells it in a complex and often uncomfortable way. Not everyone can handle this film, but those who do take the chance will experience one of the most exciting debuts from an Asian filmmaker this year. With the recent news that Nakajima has been hired by a major Japanese production company, I hope that he produces a softer mainstream film, allowing more more people to discover his talents. On the other hand, I don't want him to lose the unflinching edge that makes This World of Ours such a standout film. As demanding as it sounds, I hope he can find a balance between mainstream and edgy, independent sensibilities with his next film. (Kevin Ma 2007)

Notes: • Learn more about the film at the official website.

2007 Pia Film Festival
• Special Jury Prize
• Imagica Technical Prize
• Avex Entertainment Award

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