Tuesday, 24 March 2020

Movie review: Tuna Girl, dir Mana Yasuda (2019)

This curious and lovely film has a simple goal (and it fully attains it): to show how a dedication to craft warrants respect. It seemed to me to be a distinctively Japanese film, so viewers from other countries might be puzzled by the beginning, but stick with it and it delivers in spades.

Minami Takayama (Fuka Koshiba) is a student who arrives at a private research institute to learn about the cultivation of tuna. She’s accident-prone but well-intentioned and piques the interest of the organisation’s leader (Hidetoshi Hoshida) who asks her to help promote it so that he can attract more funding. Minami comes up with some ideas but (naturally) things don’t go according to plan.

Possibly, only a woman could have made this film but Yasuda also runs commentary on Japanese celebrity culture. The often vapid, sometimes sneering tone of Japanese commercial TV is taken to task; it is something that any foreigner who has lived for a period of time in Japan can understand. The film also includes a critique of social media that can’t go astray. Fourthly, the movie underscores a related subject, something that comes up from time to time in online debates: the necessary contingency of knowledge. All that science can do is use evidence to reveal new truths and, in this process, there is no limit. There are no tablets of stone, and new ideas must be tested before being rejected out of hand.

What most impressed me in this film is the way that the different characters pull their weight. I couldn’t find the names of some of the actors on IMDB – I’m not sure what the site’s policy is with regard to listing film credits – but even the people playing minor roles did solid work so the economy of the film is remarkable. Ryosuke Yusa plays Shun Hosono, who breeds parasites for use in the institute's research. Syuri Tanaka plays Akira Kuroda, a serious young woman who is a classmate of Hosono and Takayama. The writing is also excellent.

I wrote a number of journalistic stories on tuna back in the day so I was prepared for some of what this film offers. Japan’s appetite for the fish is legendary. It might not be common knowledge that wild stocks are depleted but many people already know that tuna fetch a high price in Tokyo’s fish market. It is also commonly known that Japanese cuisine relies on fish for a considerable part of the protein it uses, although beef and other types of meat (though not, for some reason, lamb) get yearly more popular. So this film is topical, addressing, as it does, the issue of the sustainability of a natural resource.

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