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December 06, 2022



Shinzo Katayama - 2021
Dark Star Pictures

What is noted about director Shinzo Katayama is that he served as an Assistant Director to Bong Joon-ho on Mother and Bong's segment in the omnibus Tokyo!. What brings Bong to mind in Missing is actor Jiro Sato as Harada, the miserable sanitation worker whose disappearance initiates the story. Sata bears some resemblance to Parasite's Song Kang-ho physically, but lacking Song's sometimes unfounded optimism. The sad sack Harada is a grubby, part-time sanitation worker who is introduced as needing the care of his middle school daughter, Kaede. Harada's sudden absence is taken seriously only by Kaede who is certain that her father is in search of a serial killer in order to claim the reward. Katayama reverses the more common narrative of father or father-figure as the searcher with the daughter or young girl as the searched. As the film progresses, it becomes a darker exploration of human nature.

Katayama's Japan only looks attractive from a distance. Most of the film takes place in what appear to be the grungiest sections of Osaka. There are hardly any streets, but mostly a claustrophobic maze of alley ways, pathways clogged with bags of garbage and abandoned junk. In a later scene following the serial killer, Yamauchi, he is shown a pictorial view of the small island by an orange farmer. Down from the peak, is a rough road with worn down people and houses. Yamauchi also has a scene with a woman on a beach. Their relationship is unclear. The beach is otherwise dull and devoid of any other people. Where Harada works is too organized to be described as a garbage dump, but it is an industrial site filled with things that have no more use. From the opening scene, most relationships are depicted as transactional, from spare change to millions of yen, even in literal matters of life and death.

The opening scene is composed of a series of traveling shots following Kaede running through the streets of Osaka, with the occasional shot of composed of multiple surveillance cameras on one screen. Following on this is a later scene where Kaede spots Yamauchi, with the camera following her as she pursues the suspected serial killer on foot and bicycle. There is some graphic horror but most of the scenes depicting murder are more luridly suggestive. The narrative is awkward, depending on two extended flashbacks to explain the relationship between characters from the points of view of the three main characters. The final scene is of Harada and Kaede playing ping pong. The camera zooms out from the table to show the two on each side of the screen while they come to a mutual understanding following a resolution of all that has previously transpired. There is a second game where Harada and Kaede are going through the motions of playing ping pong while the camera zooms towards the middle of the table. This last scene could well be a nod towards Antonioni's Blow Up with its missing murder victim and a tennis game with a ball heard but not seen.

Posted by Peter Nellhaus at December 6, 2022 06:59 AM