Release date: February 27th, 2012
Certificate (UK): PG
Running time: 120 minutes
Year of production: 2009
Country of origin: Japan
Original language: Japanese with English subtitles
Writer and director: Satoshi Miki
Cast: Kumiko Aso, Ryo Kase, Morio Kazama, Kankuro Kudo, Ryo Iwamatsu, Eri Fuse
Instant Swamp is the third film I’ve seen by director Satoshi Miki after Adrift in Tokyo and Turtles are Surprisingly Fast Swimmers and I’m starting to see certain stylistic and narrative patterns. He carries a consistent sense of quirky humour in his films that I’m still somewhat undecided about, but he has made me laugh out loud more often than not so I tend to lean towards the positive.
In all three films, he chooses an aimless, unfulfilled and quite inept protagonist only to set them off on a journey of self-discovery.
Instant Swamp is his latest feature film to date and in many ways it is the most refined. It opens with a wonderful montage of urban hopelessness, where we meet Haname Jinchoge (Kumiko Aso), who is – not surprisingly – quite aimless and unfulfilled. She says it herself right away: “I awake each morning thinking, ‘Today is the day!’ and go to bed disappointed.”
Haname feels foolish and manipulated working at her job diligently and sometimes she just wants to scream. She is not sure whether to lose control or seek order. Mind you, while this sounds really depressing, the wonderful thing about Satoshi Miki is that he can make all of this very funny and light-hearted in a superb opening montage where images go hand-in-hand with spoken words.
Haname is also a firm rationalist and her mother (Keiko Matsuzaka) thinks that this might be her problem. She encourages her to “see the impossible”. Haname is sceptical but then three major events occur in her life: her mother has an accident and falls into a coma, her job essentially ceases to exist and she stumbles upon the name of her real father. So off she goes to meet the man for the first time, leaving her previous life behind.
While Insant Swamp has many different ideas and goes off in several directions much like Adrift in Tokyo and Turtles, it has a distinct overarching theme that drives the film to a fascinating climax. This more focused narrative gives the film a sense of maturity – it feels like it has something quite specific to say.
As Haname is going through changes that effectively turn her life up-side-down, she is (and we are) encouraged to experience personal miracles in life. For me the word miracle in real life is merely an inadequate way to describe something we don’t yet understand, but that is precisely why I relish miracles in fiction. I count, for instance, Richard Kelly’s Donnie Darko and Brian De Palma’s Femme Fatale amongst my favourite films and they both revolve around miracles that have a profound impact on the narrative. These are not only thought-provoking films, but also allow me to indulge myself to embrace and celebrate miracles. Haname eventually finds a positive attitude to life that’s given birth to by an awe-inspiring and truly unexpected event.
I appreciate filmmakers who value their own work and have a healthy amount of self-respect. This can be shown in many ways, Hitchcock for instance had small cameos in his own films, but directors mostly do this by subtly referencing their own work – in their own work. In Instant Swamp, one character gives another one million yen in return for something that cannot be measured with money just like in Adrift in Tokyo, and that suspiciously tasteless ramen from Turtles are Surprisingly Fast Swimmers also makes an off-screen cameo appearance. Satoshi Miki is showing all the signs of an auteur with a body of work that has potential.
I found Instant Swamp to be the most satisfying piece of work by this filmmaker I’ve seen so far. Although I’m not sure if I like it more than Turtles are Surprisingly Fast Swimmers, which has a charm that is only magnified by its imperfections. Instant Swamp is a polished piece of work that confidently takes the viewer towards its conclusion. It did go on a bit longer than it should have and because most jokes were hits but some were misses I really felt the solid two hours of running time. The performances are all great with an emphasis on Ryo Iwamatsu, who played memorable supporting roles in all of Miki’s films I’ve seen, but I also remember him as Sawako’s funny uncle in Yuya Ishii’s Sawako Decides.
For a helpless rationalist like myself, Instant Swamp was a great journey that made me believe that awesome, value-changing miracles do happen in life.
Arpad is a Film Studies graduate and passionate photographer (he picked up the camera and started taking stills just as he began his studies of moving pictures). He admires directors that can tell a story first of all in images. More or less inevitably, Brian De Palma has become Aprad’s favourite filmmaker.
Then there’s Arpad’s interest in anime. He was just a boy when he saw Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind on an old VHS and was hypnotised by the story of friendship, devotion and sacrifice. He still marvels at the uncompromising and courageous storytelling in Japanese anime, and wonders about the western audience with its ever growing appetite for “Japanemation”.