Kohei Sanada (“Farewell Family”, 2018) tells a triangle yakuza story in the aftermath of a nuclear accident that does not fall for the tropes of sentimentality. Being born near a power plant in Ishikawa prefecture himself, the director draws an austere picture of the life around the evacuation zone.
The film “Firing the Lighter Gun” is being shown at Camera Japan.
Tatsuya, also known as Yuya Okutsu, resides in a town located near a nuclear disaster area. He is employed by the yakuza who are in charge of the cleanup operations. Ryo, a former classmate and ex-convict, and Mari, a sex worker played by Arisa Nakamura, also join him in this town. Despite the bleak environment, each of them strives to hold onto their humanity and treat each other with kindness.
Also, make sure to watch this interview featuring Luca.
Throughout the movie, it becomes evident that Ryo and Tatsuya choose different paths. Ryo’s behavior becomes increasingly hostile and cold-hearted. Tatsuya, who is responsible for caring for his mother who has dementia, feels out of place and becomes even more isolated when his boss orders him to exploit Mari. The actors portray this transformation effectively. Mari’s character has limited screen time and is not as developed as the other two protagonists in terms of backstory and growth. The three main characters also have undisclosed secrets from their past that are subtly revealed. As a result, the intensity of the drama remains low and Sanada aims to maintain a realistic portrayal.
By opting for a slower pace and a more realistic approach, “Firing the Lighter Gun” sacrifices certain elements. The limited use of music and plain cinematography may not be very attractive. Rather than being avant-garde and artistic, the film’s cynical tone is conveyed through dialogue and is its most engaging aspect. Kohei Sanada shows no mercy towards his characters. While the nuclear disaster is not the main focus, the flawed and corrupt system that caused it and continues to govern the community remains at the forefront, even after its devastating effects.
It takes a lot of courage to combine the explosion of a nuclear power plant with corruption, especially in Japan. “Firing the Lighter Gun” benefits from this fresh honesty and does not shy away from criticism, which bears many links to political and social accusations. The human drama, the illness of Tatsuya’s mother, the murder case of Ryo, and Mari’s unrequited search for love are wrapped around this mysterious cloud called nuclear disaster.
Kohei Sanada, a highly skilled filmmaker who completed his studies at Tokyo University of the Arts Graduate School of Film and Media, is gradually making his mark in the industry. His film “Icarus and the Son” (2015) received the Special Jury Prize at Yubari International Fantastic Film Festival and he continues to independently write and edit all of his projects. Looking towards the future, I hope to see an evolution in his artistic approach. In particular, his use of music and framing in “Firing the Lighter Gun” shows great potential to add depth to the storytelling. Combined with his bold and thought-provoking scriptwriting, Sanada has the potential to shed light on pressing issues within Japan.