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Documentary Review: Johatsu-Into Thin Air (2024) by Andreas Hartmann and Arata Mori
Documentary Review: Johatsu-Into Thin Air (2024) by Andreas Hartmann and Arata Mori

Documentary Review: Johatsu-Into Thin Air (2024) by Andreas Hartmann and Arata Mori

I wish for her to live a peaceful life.

Johatsu is a term used in Japan to describe individuals who intentionally vanish from their lives without a trace. This behavior was first mentioned in the 1960s, but became more common in the 1990s due to financial problems in the country, causing many to escape their debts. Statistics show that approximately 80,000 people go missing each year, with the majority being located by police after being reported. Unfortunately, thousands never resurface. While the concept is considered taboo in Japan, it has been explored in cinema, such as in Shohei Imamura’s “A Man Vanishes.” However, Andreas Hartman and Arata Mori provide a different and more realistic perspective on the topic by focusing on the individuals who vanish and the ‘night-moving’ companies that facilitate their disappearance for a fee.

The greatest quality of Andreas Hartmann and Arata Mori’s work is unquestionably the thoroughness of their research and the way it is presented on screen, covering all aspects of the concept. “Johatsu” explores the individuals behind ‘night-moving’ companies, which are then revealed to be individuals who have also fled in the past, their clients, their motives, and their lives after they flee. Additionally, it delves into the people who are left behind, some of whom are not as malicious as portrayed in some cases. This is a remarkable achievement, considering the nature of the overall concept. The directors were able to persuade these individuals to appear on camera and openly discuss their motives, current lives, and future aspirations, resulting in a series of jaw-dropping revelations.

By achieving this and being incredibly thorough, the directors also effectively highlight the reasons for making a drastic decision. This often results in individuals leaving their partners, children, and parents behind. As we hear about instances of domestic abuse, gambling, and other forms of debt, as well as dealing with stalkers, violent employers, and intense family or relationship dynamics, we can sense the pressure that they felt before choosing to take this course of action. It is interesting to see that this “solution” is not so different from what happens in the West in similar situations. It is also eye-opening to hear that some individuals want to go back but feel unable to do so, while others are content with their decision and have no desire to turn back.

The description of Nishinari in Osaka is mentioned by one of the escapees as a laid-back and uninterested place that fosters these types of pursuits, which further contributes to the characterization and solidifies the overall technical approach.

The documentary’s visuals are of excellent quality. Hartmann expertly captures the night scenes, where most of the “escapes” occur, in a style reminiscent of a noir film. In contrast, when individuals share their experiences, the visuals are more reminiscent of a family drama mixed with a documentary. However, the documentary remains the predominant style. At times, the visuals and cinematic approach may seem overly artistic, especially with the frequent use of long shots. However, overall, this aspect is balanced, and the documentary remains rooted in reality.

Kai Eiermann’s editing skills are exceptional, particularly in his seamless transitions between various individuals of interest. This maintains a fast pace while also providing a refreshing change in each segment.

“Through expert storytelling and visual style, ‘Johatsu-Into Thin Air’ expertly delves into the intricate and fascinating Johatsu phenomenon in Japan. The film, edited skillfully by Kai Eiermann, uses a critical lens to examine human psychology, leaving a lasting impact on the audience.”