Leo Sato’s directorial debut, The Kamagasaki Cauldron War, takes you right into the heart of an impoverished community in Osaka. His script evokes some pretty brilliant messaging in the process about the value we place in things big or small, executing it with a delightful cast and story that always stays kinetic and palpable.
Such a thing in this instance is a “kama”, a ritual cauldron that belongs to the local Kamatari yakuza organization. Much becomes ado with the cauldron one evening when Henmi, a kabuki dancer struggling to support his son, Kantaro, who wants to go to school, steals the cauldron for himself, sparking an epic search for the cauldron, as well as Kantaro’s own fight for survival when the yakuza come looking.
Kantaro eventually lands in the care of a prostitute named Mei, and a resident hoarder named Nikichi at the behest of Father Eichizen, a reformed yakuza leader-turned-priest. The missing cauldron begins stirring talk among the neighborhood’s poor regarding the monetary value of cauldrons, leading several of the homeless on quests of their own to collect.
That especially includes Nikichi who himself believes he’s hit the jackpot, only for his efforts to backfire when his actions soon land him in the public eye as a hero just as a movement builds to protect the nearby soup kitchen and park where the homeless reside.
What none of them realize is the connection between the missing cauldron and the yakuza. Thickening things even further is the re-emergence of the Kamartari gang’s successor, Tamao, for whom succeeding his father is the last thing on his mind as he tries to rekindle his old connection from childhood with Mei, or fight Nikichi for her – whichever comes first.
The most outstanding arc we witness in Sato’s The Kamagasaki Cauldron War is how Mei factors into these events. Really, she’s just trying to survive day to day despite not really having any friends, except for one, Akemi, with whom she used to work with at a prior brothel, and there’s a significant twist at the end about this.
Theirs is also a friendship that’s ultimately taken on different trajectories. How Sato observes this only adds to the interest in its relatability on matters pertaining to the friendships we make, and their respective shelf lives; In The Kamagasaki Cauldron War, this is greatly indicative to the slowly rising tide of change in the neighborhood.
Between a spate of arson attacks the police are writing off as accidents, the Kamatari gang’s search for the kama and Nikichi’s constant petty theft and urge to make a quick buck, it’s only a matter of time until a raucousing street fight explodes onto the scene with a seedy land developer looking to capitalize no matter who gets hurt or worse.
My Japan Cuts coverage began this week with a film called Demolition Girl. It’s certainly a different kind of film that still suits much of the purpose of this site from a creative and artful perspective, and Sato’s The Kamagasaki Cauldron War is especially par for the course, which made seeing this film such a fulfilling experience.
Clocked in at an hour and fifty minutes, Sato’s feature debut is a dexterous, wry, delightful and buoyant 16mm work of cinema that galvanizes, with its beautiful lensing, vivid imagery, endearing performances, and delighful touch through song and dance. Its powerful messaging is what’s unspoken here, and it’s worth listening for as the events play out – several times in the film fact, as well as the shot of the lead actress in her outtro performance. It sure gave me a chuckle.