Author Shinsuke Numata’s Akutagawa Prize winning novel, “Eiri”, serves as the basis for Beneath The Shadow, director Keishi Otomo’s first foray into the arthouse genre. With the March 2011 earthquake as the centerpiece of the film’s backdrop, the film stars Go Ayano and Ryuhei Matsuda in a story set within the span of six years and centers on Konno, a newly relocated pharmaceutical company employee who eventually befriends a co-worker named Hiasa.
For Konno, whose social life is next to non-existent apart from the usual exchanges at work, his newfound friendship with the enigmatic Hiasa is slightly uneasy, albeit more welcome. Hiasa is much more bold and practical in his approach to dialogue with Konno, who bares a more unassuming and polite air, though the obvious undertaking is yet to arise with Konno already developing feelings for him.
A brief moment of passion provides a more concrete test of where things stand in terms of their connection. Nonetheless, the elusive Hiasa’s fickle nature eventually exposes a terrible truth about who he is over a period of time, forcing Konno to come to grips with his own emotional stability and understanding of love and the need for attachment.
Beneath The Shadow will be a different beast for anyone who’s come to be a fan of Otomo’s successes of the past ten years with films like Museum and the Rurouni Kenshin franchise which has two more live-action installments next year. Otomo definitely has an eye for arthouse with Beneath The Shadow, with a script that explores a lot of innuendo between Konno and Hiasa that doesn’t really bring things to a head until about forty-five minutes in. Between the two, it’s Hiasa that takes the lead as they begin to do more with each other, from drinking into the wee hours of the morning at Konno’s apartment, to fishing on their days off.
Konno’s quiet, observant indecision is the most interesting thing midway in the film when he shares the screen with Hiasa, as he tries to dissect his enigmatic air, from his knowledge on fishing, factoids about nature and a tall family tale about a pomegranate tree in his backyard growing up, to things like Mongolian wood, moss, and even snakes. Konno eventually starts to see a lot more clearly about Hiasa, but not before Hiasa’s subliminal messaging brings things to a boiling point.
Ayano does a satisfactory job of shepherding the story along as we meet the multiple characters of his life, both past and present, while carrying the torch in a lead LGBT drama that touches on several things, among which are love and betrayal. The crux of the story is more centered on the subject of attachment at times, as we get a character in Hiasa that isn’t everything he shows himself to be, exuded in a role brilliantly performed with strong charisma and an almost menacing air by Matsuda.
Culminating the tale is a story of self-discovery, not unlike 500 Days Of Summer but minus the upbeat dance number and starry comedic energy. Further featuring an appearance by the venerable Jun Kunimura, Beneath The Shadow comes from a place of pain and suffering, something all normal-functioning humans have to endure when learning about love and their own emotions for a time. It’s a palpable tale told from a queer angle and otherwise makes for two hours of fine entertainment for the romance crowd.
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