Greetings again from the darkness. As the film opens, we are informed that since 1977, there have been 13 confirmed cases of Japanese citizens being abducted by the North Korean government. No reason is known, and countless other “disappearances” are suspected to fall under this same crime. Writer-director Taka Tsubota’s first film could be described as a political drama, a family drama, societal commentary, or international crime mystery. While it touches on each of these, the film, at its core, is a look at the turmoil and anxiety that strikes when a family member goes missing. Importantly, it’s inspired by real life events from within Japan.
The Hiiragi family is a mess. The youngest son, Tetsuya, has gone missing – presumed abducted by the North Koreans, given the history and that no ransom has been demanded. What we witness is the fallout: how each of the family members reacts, how the media treats the story, and how society as a whole leans toward victim-shaming. The father and mother are played by Takahiro Ono and Miwako Izumi, respectively. Dad has a background as a conservative journalist, and the couple experienced some bumpy marital times a few years prior. Both of these items come back to haunt them as the media pokes and prods for a story.
Kaede (played by Mizuki) is the daughter, a hard worker who gets fired from her job due to concerns for her employer’s image. Yuichi (Yuki Kawashima) is the oldest son, and we see him obsessed with boxing. His reasons are initially unclear, but become the heart of the film’s conclusion. Of course, the media (and others) interpret his focus on boxing as indifference towards his missing younger brother, adding fuel to the fire that this is some elaborate hoax meant to attract attention to the father’s political beliefs.
Guilt, confusion, and frustration are spread throughout the family as the media and society turn against them. Their lives are picked apart – past and present – and anything that can possibly be twisted as evidence is thrown at them. Is anything more disturbing than having personal family issues on public display? It’s fascinating to see the many reactions … especially those of the individual family members. Sometimes a family only has each other, and a reminder of this can arrive in many ways – some of which are emotionally draining. Although director Tsubota’s focus is on the Japanese culture, it’s very easy to see the similarities within American society. Victim-shaming is an easy sport in which to participate … just pray the full force is not aimed at you.