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Film Review: ABYSS (2023) by Ren Sudo
Film Review: ABYSS (2023) by Ren Sudo

Film Review: ABYSS (2023) by Ren Sudo

“Don’t look at the sea at night.”

Among the many attractions Tokyo has to offer, nightlife is certainly one of the most special. Many indie directors have explored the various clubs, restaurants and pubs which have opened and have managed to attract quite the following, even beyond the Japanese borders. Given their significance in the lives of so many, it comes quite natural for these locations to be featured in stories dealing with urban life and relationships. After showing the Japanese south of the 1970s in his feature debut “Backlight”, director/actor Ren Sudo takes his viewers into the depths of Tokyo nightlife in his new movie “ABYSS”, a coming-of-age drama which also sees him taking on the lead role of Kei, a young man looking for direction in his life.

Kei has been working as a bartender in a club in Tokyo for quite some time, keeping mostly to himself. Upon hearing the news of his brother’s death, he reluctantly returns home to attend the funeral of Yuta, whom he despised for a despicable act he had to witness when he was younger. During the funeral, he sees Rumi (Arisa Sasaki), his brother’s ex-girlfriend, grieving his loss, which is something Kei does not quite understand as she has suffered in the relationship in his opinion.

However, despite their argument about the nature of the loss and Kei’s lack of compassion, the two meet again, this time in Tokyo. After his shift at the bar, he goes to the club where she performs as a dancer, and the two become very close in a little time. When Kei hears about her other relationships and other truths, he has to face some ugly facts about himself as well and must decide whether he is willing to take the next step and possibly find the love of his life.

As mentioned before, the various facets of Tokyo nightlife are the backdrop of “ABYSS” and play an important role. On the one hand, the idea of the abyss is reflected in the different clubs and bars where we see the main characters and their relationship deepen. At the same time, the neon lights, the bass-heavy, electronic music as well as the small vans where people enjoy a smoke become their natural habitat. Indeed, especially Kei seems to actively seek out the anonymity of these places and their vibrant life, which is something sorely missing from his existence during daytime. Rather than making it a mere aesthetic choice, Sudo emphasizes nightlife as a mirror of the character’s life and also their emotions, while expressing a certain longing for something profound.

If anything, “ABYSS” is another impressive calling card for its director and main actor. As he highlights in interviews, he is willing to take risks, such as the underwater sequence, to make his features stand out among the plethora of indie movies coming from his home country. However, this is again not just elegant or beautiful imagery, but rather stresses the search of Kei for a profound connection and a longing for romance. Indeed, while bordering on being corny at time, “ABYSS” is a deeply romantic story, with Sudo and Sasaki excelling as the leads and making a believable couple. At the same time, their conflict with themselves and their past is presented in an aesthetically pleasing and gripping way so that you wish these two all the best.

“ABYSS” is a blend of coming-of-age story and romantic drama. Ren Sudo manages to direct another impressive feature, presenting his skills as a visual storyteller and performer.