Stills from Someone
To continue on with my reviews of Japanese films I’ve been watching during the pandemic, I want to explore a 2016 film called Someone (何者, Nanimono; also translated as Somebody).
Based on a Ryo Asai novel of the same name (who also wrote The Kirishima Thing), it has an engaging premise: college friends making their way into the hyper competitive Japanese workforce try to help each other out by researching and applying to jobs together. However, as some succeed where others fail, resentment builds and past wounds begin to reopen between the friends.
I find it incredibly endearing to see these young adults gathering together to job hunt like late night study groups, but now what's at stake is a livelihood instead of grades. It's also a fascinating glimpse into the interview system in Japan which is a volley of tests, in person interviews, and presentations. It's pretty intense and seems to be uniquely Japanese.
The intensity of the job search process seems to mirror the intensity of the Japanese work culture which is known for it's incredibly long hours and strict hierarchical corporate structure. The term "karōshi" (過労死), death from overwork, was born out of 1970s Japan to explain the deaths of that time due to stress and exhaustion from overwork. Unfortunately, this concept has continued to present day Japan, with cases like Ms. Miwa Sado in 2017 gaining widespread attention and making companies reconsider their labour practices.
The film examines how many Japanese, particularly the men, attach their self-worth to their profession. There's a really good dialogue exchange between the characters where they question just how valid of a viewpoint this is and it really shows how different each character's value system is in regards to work and life.
The lead, Tukuto (played by Takeru Satoh), gave up on an unstable career as a theater director to pursue work in the corporate world. Theater was his passion, but he feels it's too unrealistic to pursue as a career despite his former co-theater director continuing to do so. This creates a gaping divide between the two of them–expressed visually by us never seeing his former colleague's face–that wells up with resentment leading to an outburst later on. There are some really cool meta performances with the use of theatre performances put on by this allusive former colleague that comments directly on the events happening in the film. However I don't think this device is fully utilized and it just evaporates towards the end of the film.
The female lead, Mizuki (played by Kasumi Arimura), for me plays a bit too much of a victim of circumstance and I would've liked to see more of her coming into her own and not being an accessory to the male characters. Another issue the film has is that it doesn't fully explore certain relationships and characters and thus they feel a bit extraneous. One clear example is Takuta's senior Sawa (played by Takayuki Yamada) that’s supposed to serve as a mentor to him, but he only comes in to drop in a line of wisdom or two, but is then wholly absent for most of the film. I feel this is probably the issue with novel to film adaptations in which instead of keeping all the characters, it may be better to combine certain characters in order to service the much more brief and visual medium of film.
What is a refreshing perspective is that this is one of the few films where a main character is actually not as nice as we think and I think it's an interesting subversion. We're led to believe a certain character is one way, but we find out just how fake of a mask he carries in front of others, putting into question his behavior throughout the film. It's the unreliable narrator without narration but with plenty of angry and resentful messages on social media. However, this film is a little heavy handed in its execution of this reveal and I felt like there could have been more subtlety. Also, the direction of the performances and some of the lines were a bit too on the nose, with some characters directly saying how they feel and what their insecurities are. This is particularly pronounced in an emotional moment in the film where a character is confronted for their painful, surreptitious remarks against others in the group, which I felt could've been more nuanced.
I like the theme of hypocrisy and how many of us put on masks in front of others. I too have been a hater in points in my life and this film does a good job at holding the mirror up to our faces. The film points its finger at us as if to say: don't be so damn high and mighty, we're all doing our best. The film also shows how important friendships and relationships are. There's an argument that the Japanese are one of the loneliest populations in the world, but it's fair to say that this loneliness may be an outcome of late stage capitalism and could explain the loneliness epidemic in Western countries like the U.S. and Britain. We see this isolation in Tukuto's character in his quest for finding a job above all else and how this quest hurts those around him and particularly how it hurts himself.
Overall, I still enjoyed the film despite some of the areas that were lacking. I enjoyed seeing the characters interact, but I felt the themes of the film– such as how honesty wins over hypocrisy– is not fully manifested in the main character. It is as if we end just as the arc of the main character begins. That said, the novel may offer more insight where I feel this film falls short, so if you happen to know of an English translation, drop a comment below.
Poster for Someone.