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Now showing in Hong Kong

Film review: Night’s Tightrope - vengeful schoolgirls in a dark take on Japanese society

Tsubasa Honda and Mizuki Yamamoto play high-school friends who ponder mortality, and adults’ immorality, in adaptation of crime-fiction novel by Kanae Minato

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 20 October, 2016, 11:47am
UPDATED : Thursday, 20 October, 2016, 11:55am

3/5 stars

Though not technically a thriller/mystery, Night’s Tightrope does offer everything from vengeful schoolgirls and ghastly suicides to a relentlessly gloomy view of Japanese society to satisfy the fans of crime-fiction author Kanae Minato, on whose second novel the film is based.

A teenage drama populated by enough immoral adult characters to make your heart sink, this big-screen adaptation by A Stitch of Life director Yukiko Mishima is most likely to reward those who come with an open mind.

The film begins with a bizarrely staged scene in which several high-school girls advocate for what might be interpreted as a form of social Darwinism, as they call for the weak to be terminated before birth or persecuted after it. The resentment permeating that prologue is expounded in a macabre story – involving high-school best friends Yuki (Tsubasa Honda) and Atsuko (Mizuki Yamamoto) – that vividly shows how these 17-years-olds are let down, exploited or abused by the people around them.

Actresses play against type in macabre Japanese coming-of-age drama

While Atsuko is a victim of schoolyard bullying so vicious that she has chosen to keep faking a limp after her leg injury has long healed, Yuki is at once backing Atsuko and channelling her plight in a novella entitled Night’s Tightrope. And then one day, Yuki’s manuscript is stolen by her devious teacher, who proceeds to win a literary prize with it. Once she’s taken her revenge on that teacher – soon reported to have died in a train accident – Yuki also becomes fascinated with the notion of seeing someone die.

From then on, the pair go their separate ways for voluntary summer jobs in equally morbid settings: Atsuko at an old people’s home, Yuki a paediatric ward for the terminally ill. The irony here is that both girls, unsurprisingly, find glimpses of hope that are absent from their everyday life.

Night’s Tightrope is a poetic coming-of-age tale that, while it doesn’t moralise, appears emotionally conflicted throughout. The film (and the novel it is based on) is called Girls in Japanese; it’s not like you haven’t been warned.

Night’s Tightrope opens on October 20

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