Japan Cuts 2016: BEING GOOD Review


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Release Date: TBD
Director: Mipo Oh
MPAA Rating: NR
Run Time: 120 Minutes

Seemingly taking place in what must be the most emotionally damaged neighborhood in at least a hundred miles of its setting, Mipo Oh’s Being Good is a multi-character study that takes an ensemble-style, “everything is connected” approach. This kind of story can go one way or the other – on one hand, this can set up massive third-act payoffs and large, rippling messages, but on the other, cohesion and story development can often be stunted in the process.

It’s a hard kind of movie to perfect, and some of those mistakes are frankly obvious in parts of this film. Story threads are unevenly distributed and – in one egregious case, apparently forgotten – until perfunctorily addressed in an open-ended finale. It’s a disappointing drawback for a production that otherwise features committed performances and a number of otherwise meaningful observations on interpersonal relationships and collective morality. 

Things are ostensibly set around an elementary school, particularly a classroom taught by the rather inexperienced Okano (Kengo Kora). Large chunks of the story are devoted to fractured relationships between small children and adults (of all ages), as the traumas of the elders threaten to be copied onto the younger. Okano is rather overwhelmed by his class, which seems raucous when taken collectively. However, closer observation reveals a number of points of concern – namely, a quiet student whom he suspects is being beaten and starved at home.

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Meanwhile, on the other side of town, a young mother named Masami (Machiko Ono) struggles with an unchecked temper and the echoes of a difficult childhood of her own, as she physically and psychologically abuses her three-year-old daughter at every small indignancy. Adding even more to Being Good, Oh also tells the story of Akiko (Michie Kita), an elderly woman suffering with the decline of her mental capacities. She lives alone; her immediate family members have all died; and she longs for a companion to enliven her repetitive days.

Oh’s quest as a filmmaker is rather simple and obvious from the outset – to resolve all of these stories in some way and connect them together. She sprawls out her story threads and meanders through them. There is always at least an iota of an interesting element to each development, but the implied immediacy is never realized. Yuta Tsukinaga’s cinematography almost seems to unintentionally externalize this shortcoming, with a visual motif fixated on wide and medium shots. 

Very rarely are we granted the opportunity to truly gaze at a character and glean more insight, both in the figurative and literal senses. It is a shame because each of the revolving plotlines are genuinely engaging as they each tap into their own ideas. The concepts of abandonment, abuse and empathy are core to Being Good’s inner depth and are certainly ripe for dramatic treatment.

Unfortunately, while Oh makes interesting plays at these themes, the anthological nature of the film makes it difficult for them to be explored in an un-fragmented way, and their respective resolutions feel rushed. This movie feels like a rough draft of a screenplay that was accidentally treated as the shooting script.

Everything is in the process of coming together, but nearly all of it could have been punched up in some way – to flesh out the stories with more background and nuance; connect the dots in a more impactful way (i.e., drawing more lines between the characters, unifying their problems); or to fully tie up the handful of loose ends remaining, ensuring closure and finishing what was started.

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