23 January 2012

Japan in Germany 7: Oshima (大島, 2010)

“This story makes no sense,” a frustrated German police officer says at the beginning of Lars Henning’s dark tale Oshima (大島, 2010), and asks the Japanese language interpreter to have the haggard and bruised-looking salaryman before him to repeat his story one more time from the beginning.  The man introduces himself as Taburo Oshima and says that he just arrived from Tokyo on business.

The opening credits are positioned over the clouds and a girl’s voice tells us that this is the story of her father, who in October 2002 came to Germany on business with plans of continuing on to the United States.   The tale that he told to the police is the last official record of his existence.  He disappeared without a trace.  The girl mysteriously goes on to explain that while her mother never told her what happened that night, she nevertheless knows what happened that night.

Oshima, played by Japan-born/Germany-raised actor Yuki Iwamoto, arrives in Germany in a haze.  In addition to jet lag, Oshima may be experiencing extreme side effects from the depression medication Opipramol that he consumes on the flight.  He passes out upon arrival at the airport, and is looked after by an airport employee (Hakan Orbeyi).  He somewhat recovers and stumbles out of the baggage retrieval area into the arms of an eager-to-curry-favour German businessman, Herr Kleinschmidt (Devid Striesow), and his interpreter, Frau Izumi (Nina Fog). 

Oshima’s wooziness continues in the car journey to the hotel and over the course of this half hour dramatic short, he passes in and out of consciousness due to a mixture of over-medication, alcohol consumption, and just plain exhaustion.  Oshima seems disinterested in his business dealings with Herr Kleinschmidt and barely even aware of his surroundings for most of the film.  In an off-hand comment to Frau Izumi, which she curiously does not translate to her boss, Oshima reveals that he has lost his entire family in an accident.   Izumi is drawn to him, but at the same time suspicious that this man may not be who he says he is.   Are we witnessing the mental collapse of a salaryman or is there something more going on here?  Oshima’s vision of a white unicorn on the darkened streets of this anonymous German city suggest deeper layers to this man’s story which the viewer must unravel for him/herself. 

The ambiguity of the storyline could have been disastrous if not for the sensitive and subtle acting performances of Iwamoto and Fog.  Their faces are very expressive and hint at a deeper emotional story than is implicit in the dialogue and narration.  Lars Henning (b. 1976, Hamburg) is the director of the much acclaimed short Security (2006) which won prizes at the Avanca Film Festival and Lübeck Nordic Film Days.  He pursued a postgraduate degree in television and film at the Academy of Media Arts Cologne (Kunsthochschule für Medien Köln) between 2006 and 2010.  This is his fourth short film.  It is a melancholic tale with beautifully executed transitions.  The cinematographer, Carol Burandt von Kameke, and crew have done a remarkable job of lighting these very dark night scenes with great skill.  Many scenes have a masterful chiaroscuro look. With most young filmmakers today opting to go digital for budgetary reasons, it is a real delight to discover a short film shot beautifully on 35mm funded by cultural institutions.  Oshima is a rare gem that showed on arte before Christmas and at Japan Week in Frankfurt in November.  Looking forward to seeing more work by this director.  

Catherine Munroe Hotes 2012


director: Lars Henning
screenwriter: Lars Henning
cinematographer: Carol Burandt von Kameke
production company:  Radical Movies  / Kunsthochschule für Medien Köln
producer:  Ulrich Otto
34 minutes / 35mm
shot on location in North Rhine Westphalia


Yuki Iwamoto                    Taburo Oshima
Nina Fog                            Frau Izumi, the Interpreter
Devid Striesow                    Herr Kleinschmidt, the Businessman
Karolina Porcari                 Laika, exotic Dancer
Hakan Orbeyi                     Momo, man in airport
Jens Wachholz                    Police Officer 1
Markus Haase                    Police Officer 2
Remo Hofer                        Night Porter
Tanja Desen                       Airline Staff
Rosa Bergmann                  Girl with Wings / Naoko / voice over narration
Melanie Kühn                     Exotic Dancer
Pia Passion                         Exotic Dancer
Marie Iguchi                       voice over

Lars Henning Filmography

2005   Koslowski (15‘)
2006   Security (13‘)
2009   Driving Elodie (19‘)
2010   Oshima (35mm, 34‘)