Thicker That Water – Japan Foundation Touring Film Programme 2019 review

Building on the brilliant monthly Satori Screen showings, Quad Derby welcomed the Japan Foundation Touring Film Programme for another year to showcase 11 Japanese movies that have not screened elsewhere.

Director Keisuke Yoshida’s Thicker Than Water proved to be an excellent and thought-provoking opening to Bloop’s run of five films from the festival.

On the surface, Thicker Than Water is a dark comedy delving into the idiosyncrasies of sibling rivalry, an example of the Programme’s wide interpretation of the theme of love, but as it progresses it mines new emotional, philosophical and moral depths at every twist and turn.

Like with his previous work it is Yoshida’s skill for dark comic focus on the very human aspects of relationships that drives the movie’s plot of jealousy, self-doubt and rivalry.

Thicker Than Water travels through the stories of two pairs of siblings, one male and one female, whose personalities and skills are at odds with each other. Each has flaws and self-doubt but appears to have everything the other lacks whether it be looks, intelligence, confidence or drive. Starting off on a purely comic vent, albeit with some glimmers of disturbing violence at the hands of Arai Hirofumi’s troubled, ex-convict Takuji, as the two pairs lives collide and intertwine with each other the movie steps into full-on drama territory with issues of hate, violence and even suicide rearing their heads.

With other themes of family loyalty, sex (both personal and professional, and unrequited love, this is a movie that explores so much about the human condition in a short space of time.

Beautifully paced, really engaging in the Japanese cinema trope of saying as much with silence as dialogue, Yoshida really allows the characters to breathe and the slow unravelling of their inner-depths allows for real engagement, understanding and even enjoyment of the characters. Shot with gritty realism, it feels like viewing the real world of those in question, even in the more bizarre scenes.

Where this film really shines is in Yoshida’s on-going skill at bringing people from other disciplines into the world of acting and dragging exceptional performances from them.

Both sisters are played by movie unknowns – Yuria, the straight-laced, diligent sister is portrayed by Manzi comedy star Enoue Keiko and her fame-hungry, shallow sibling by former JJ model and TV star Miwako Kakei.

Although all roles are delivered brilliantly it is Keiko that shines in Thicker Than Water switching seamlessly from being the comic relief to delivering heartbreaking emotion. Her pathos delivered in silence draws the viewer in and draws you into the characters fragile inner core.

Thicker Than Water is a film that delivers laugh-out-loud comedy, tear-inducing sadness and thought-provoking exploration of the human condition whilst never losing sight of the narrative. It is a special movie that manages to deliver so much more than it would immediately suggest.