Friday, November 16, 2018

The Hungry Lion / 飢えたライオン - 2018 HIFF Movie Review

The Movie: The Hungry Lion / 飢えたライオン

The Director: Takaomi Ogata

The Cast: Urara Matsubayashi, Atomu Mizuishi, Mariko Tsutsui, Nanami Hidaka, Sakiko Kato

The Story: A high school teacher is fired when a video of him having sex with a teenage girl is exposed on the internet and one of his students suffers from being falsely pegged as the girl in the video.

The Review:
This movie, written and directed by Takaomi Ogata, is a fascinating and haunting look at the effects of social media on teenagers and features a heartbreaking performance from Urara Matsubayashi. Ogata dissects the interactions between friends and family by framing them in static, single take shots that allow the nuances of the performances to really sink in and affect the story in powerful ways. He also repeats locations to highlight the differences in the characters and how they either act or interact in those spaces. A classroom evolves because of how the students move through it. A kitchen goes from being a safe, comfortable home to being a cold and callous void because of how the family dynamic changes.

Because of the static camera positioning, a lot of the shots come from angles that intentionally show the actors from off angles or completely from behind. Some are close up and some are positioned more from a bird's eye view or like the metaphorical fly on the wall which to me emphasizes the invasive nature of the internet and social media. Throughout the movie, just about every student is constantly interacting with their phone while you never see any of the adults even having a phone on or near them which is a pretty exaggerated bit of symbolism but it accurately emphasizes the point of the story.

In the lead role, Urara Matsubayashi manages to delicately transform Hitomi from a free spirited yet self conscious student to a broken and empty shell of the girl we meet at the beginning of the story. Her journey is subtle in some places and brutally harsh in others but the end result tragically shows how anyone, no matter how random, can end up a victim of a technological reality that favors rumor and sensationalism over truth and common sense. Over the course of the story, Ogata puts Hitomi through just about every type of bullying you can think of and you can see how each moments breaks her down to where she is completely incapable of connection or communication.

Another interesting aspect of the movie is that we get to see the far reaching effects of Hitomi's story as they wind their way through the cultural landscape and become mere whispers of what really happened. From the very beginning, you get a sense of how shallow and unimportant reality is when told through the lens of a smart phone and consequences become an afterthought in a world where a notification icon moves the attention span on to the next fleeting moment and so on into oblivion. Inside of all this, injects moments of inspiration and hope that let you hold onto the belief that the internet may not end up ruining our society after all. Ultimately, Ogata allows Hitomi to be an inspiration which I feel was a perfect way to let the story end.

The Verdict:
The Hungry Lion is an expertly crafted cautionary tale that explores the dangers of social media culture and puts them in a stark reality that hits home in so many ways. Inspired by real life news stories, Takaomi Ogata's latest feature will stick with you thanks to a unique visual style and an authentically engaging performance from Urara Matsubayashi.

The Hungry Lion is an official selection of the 2018 Hawaii International Film Festival. coverage of the 2018 Hawaii International Film Festival.

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