The plot sounds a little bland, the opening few minutes suggests a potentially dull, dreary story that will plod along at an unbearably slow rate, but then somehow The Projects turns around and reveals itself to be a completely different film to what you were expecting; one that will surprise, delight and warm the hearts of festival goers this year.
This initially bleak looking, surprisingly upbeat comedy could be one to steal the show for this year’s Japan Cuts 2016. Telling the story of an elderly couple, The Yamashitas, living in a project housing complex where the most exciting part of the day seems to be sorting out the resident’s rubbish, nothing really stands out on initial inspection. And that’s how the film gets you. Seiji (Ittoku Kishibe) and Hinako (Naomi Fujiyama) are recently retired from their herbal medicine business due to dealing with the grief of losing their only son in an accident. The new tenants become the subject of rumours between the gossiping housewives of the other project residents, who have nothing better to do with their day. The women believe that Hinako has (in her tormented state) murdered her husband and is now hiding his body somewhere in her apartment. Seiji, however, simply cannot bear to be seen after losing the building association election. Feeling sorry for himself, unappreciated, and even more depressed, he hides himself away under the floorboards whenever anyone comes round. When strange former customer, Takashi (Takumi Saito) manages to track the couple down, asking for their help, it gives Seiji and Hinako a purpose and distraction from the issues they’re both struggling to deal with.
As far as plots go it doesn’t sound like much, but have faith and allow the film to take you on the crazy ride it wants to and you won’t be disappointed. It’s rare that a film can genuinely surprise you in such ways that The Projects manages to. While it’s fair to say there are those who won’t get this film, or that its absurdity and quirky nature will be too much for some to muster, the ones who get it will love it. A lot of the fun comes from the fact the characters bring on their problems themselves, a simple explanation would end everything but the couple allow it to build to a breaking point with a brilliant climax. It’s fantastically written and directed by Junji Sakamoto, who manages to find a nice balance with wonderful twists and turns with the more down to earth elements of the story and, ultimately, ends up with a story with a whole lot of heart. It’s insanely quirky and builds to a nice, unexpected, albeit slightly confusing, yet satisfying ending.
The Projects is fun and silly but it also allows room for deeper relatable talking points, asking the question of life and death and what it all ultimately means. If you’re one for the zanier elements of Japanese cinema this is one that should be on your ‘to see’ list this year.