Document type
23 April 2009
Format viewed

Ain't No Tomorrows

picture: Ain't No Tomorrows (2008)picture: Ain't No Tomorrows (2008)

Original title
Oretachi ni Asu wa Naissu
Running time
79 mins.

picture: Ain't No Tomorrows (2008)

Tom Mes

Talking about women in film comes with its own inherent pitfalls. But clichés and unintentional sexism aside, there is no denying that these past few years, the Japanese indie scene has seen the emergence of a great number of remarkable young female directors into a field that has traditionally been radically male-centered.

Of course, the film industry as a whole was never as chauvinistic as a glance at the resolutely director-focused history books made it out to be. At numerous positions behind the scenes, not in the least in production, promotion and talent management, women have been a driving force in the Japanese film industry for quite some time. But somehow that most illustrious of positions, film director, remained elusive or, in older days at least, was denied them.

This situation now seems to be a thing of the past. The advent and acceptance of digital filmmaking has resulted in a reshuffling of the cards, which have been dealt more evenly among the sexes. Then again, one may wonder if this is purely the result of the digital revolution. After all, the democratisation it created had a precedent in the late 1970s when 8mm cameras allowed an entire generation of amateur cineastes to get their work seen. Yet out of that wave, very few women managed to break through and turn filmmaking into any sort of career. The main name in this context is Shiori Kazama, director of The Mars Canon and World's End Girlfriend among others.

The reasons behind the recent changes deserve to be investigated further, an investigation in which the voices of the women in question will be a crucial component. The Nippon Connection festival, where a lot of these talented young filmmakers have been receiving their first international exposure, took a first step in April 2009 by hosting a panel discussion on the subject that featured both directors and producers. Others would be wise to follow suit. For now, let me suffice by conveniently (if by no means exhaustively) listing some of the leading names: Miwa Nishikawa (Wild Berries, Sway), Nami Iguchi (director of The Cat Leaves Home and Sex Is No Laughing Matter, and subject of a full-page article in the March 2009 issue of Cahiers du cinéma), Naoko Ogigami (Yoshino's Barber Shop, Megane), Satoko Yokohama (German + Rain, Ultra Miracle Love Story), Tsuki Inoue (The Woman Who Is Beating the Earth, Fuwaku no Adagio), and of course Yuki Tanada.

With Moon and Cherry, Yuki Tanada delivered one of the most joyful, buoyant and intriguing feature debuts of this new millennium. A smart, witty and challenging look at shifting gender roles, it marked the breakthrough of not only its director but also its star Noriko Eguchi, who has since gone on to the kind of supporting-actor ubiquity previously reserved for off-center male actors like Ren Osugi and Tomorowo Taguchi. Tanada fulfilled the promise of Moon and Cherry by writing the multi-layered scenario for the very female-focused Sakuran, the high-profile directorial debut of star photographer Mika Ninagawa, based on the manga by Moyoco Anno and tailored to fit starlet Anna Tsuchiya. With her own directorial works Hatsuko's World (Akai Bunkajutaku no Hatsuko) and One Million Yen Girl (Hyakuman-en to Nigamushi Onna, a vehicle for Hula Girls star Yu Aoi) Tanada demonstrated her ability to function as a jobbing filmmaker, even if the films themselves lacked the spark of Moon and Cherry.

Sophomore syndrome being a rather useless term in an industry in which directors make multiple films in one year, it was only a matter of time until Tanada would spark again. And spark she does with Ain't No Tomorrows. Adapted by screenwriter Kosuke Mukai (Nobuhiro Yamashita's writing partner) from a manga by Akira Saso, it treads similar terrain to Moon and Cherry, chronicling the hesitant and clumsy sexual initiations of a group of highschoolers.

Mikio (Emoto) and Akihiro (Endo) act like the school toughs, bragging about girls and bullying their overweight classmate Anpai (Kusano). Their play belies their inexperience of worldly matters, though. They take turns fondling An-pai's flabby chest while fantasizing that it's a girl's breasts they're touching. An-pai undergoes the treatment and even makes a pretty penny out of it, since the boys throw him a coin after every turn. One day Mikio catches the real object of his desires, the fragile Natsuko (Miwako), cooing around their nerdy teacher (Taguchi), while Akihiro stumbles onto Chizu (Ando) passed out on the grass with blood trickling down her thigh. Anpai, meanwhile, finds empathy from well-endowed class cutie Akie (Misaki) who wouldn't mind switching roles and doing the fondling for a change. Couples start to form, old habits break down and insecurities need to be confronted.

The appeal of Tanada's film lies once again in the director's offbeat treatment of what easily could have become another TV-sponsored, idol-starring teen melodrama. She is interested in the diversity beneath the uniformity (note the consistent presence of school outfits and un-dyed hair on all characters), in the personalities that don't fit the formats. The relationship between the butterball and the class beauty, for example, is never as strained or fantastical as it may sound, because both characters come across as fallible human beings first of all. We may dislike Mikio for his vulgarity and arrogance toward Natsuko, or grow annoyed at Akihiro when he abuses Chizu's vulnerability and tattletales to his mates about having to take her tampon shopping, but it's through these characters' erratic, unlikable behaviour that we find an entry point into what's brooding under the surface. And it's there that their individuality lies.

Like with Moon and Cherry, Tanada also demonstrates a keen sense for casting, using pretty faces only when it serves a purpose. As atypical an apparition as the aforementioned Eguchi, Sakura Ando seems poised for a long career as a character actress, and her performances here and in her father Sion Sono's Love Exposure (Ai no Mukidashi) have already made her a talking point among insiders.

The overall impression is one of a freshness and vitality so rarely found in youth-oriented drama. Ain't no Tomorrows breaks the Japanese entertainment industry's increasingly vigorous attempts at uniformisation, all the while operating squarely from within that same industry. Yuki Tanada is one of Manny Farber's notorious termites, concise and precise, a filmmaker who can undermine the very same system that feeds her, nimble and agile in dodging the pitfalls, perceptive and determined in spotting the opportunities to put her own stamp all over the finished product. If the fad of the day is girls' manga, Yuki Tanada will adapt girls' manga. But she will deliver a Yuki Tanada film.