Indy Film Fest – Samurai in the Oregon Sky/Closet

★★★★

I agreed to review a pair of films for The Film Yap’s coverage of the 2020 Indy Film Fest, which kicked off today and runs through Sunday, Aug. 23. The two movies are “Samurai in the Oregon Sky,” a 48-minute documentary about the only manned aerial bombing of the United States during World War II, and “Closet,” a Japanese drama concerning a man who begins working as a “cuddler,” who aids insomniacs in going to sleep. As both works have ties to Japan, one’s too short to write a full review on and the other has no IMDb page (an important tool when writing a review so you know who’s who) nor Letterboxd entry (I couldn’t log “Closet”!), I’m gonna give you good folks two reviews for the price of one!

“Samurai” tells the tale of Nobuo Fujita, the pilot of the lone “attack,” which was perpetrated against an empty forest outside of Brookings, Ore. in 1942. Twenty years after the attack, a group of young men making up the Brookings Junior Chamber of Commerce (most of them Korean War veterans), invite Fujita back to Brookings for the town’s 1962 Azalea Festival. They aren’t inviting Fujita for retaliation, but rather reconciliation. The invitation caused a stir in the small community with the controversy ultimately being quelled by President John F. Kennedy (himself a WWII veteran).

“Samurai” is directed by Portland, Ore. native Ilana Sol, narrated by Kurt Weist and features animation by Zak Margolis. The story, which is conveyed via present day interviews, archival footage and the aforementioned animation, is undoubtedly one worth telling. It does occasionally feel like something you’d see at a museum or on the Discovery Channel, History Channel or TLC and less like a standalone film however. Margolis’ animation is sort of rudimentary, but has a manga feel to it that echoes Fujita’s culture and likely suited the film’s limited budget.

“Samurai” is a story of forgiveness and friendship. To see Fujita develop a relationship with the Brookings community over the course of 35 years is quite moving – he even eventually refers to the town as his second home. Fujita was an adorable old man and seemed to be a beautiful soul – it was a pleasure to spend 48 minutes with him.

I didn’t know much about “Closet” going into it. I actually thought it was the South Korean horror film called “The Closet,” which also came out this year. Alas it wasn’t, but I couldn’t shake the feeling that “Closet” (no “The”) was going to turn into a horror movie at any moment. Maybe I’ve too many Takashi Miike movies, but I kept waiting for this to devolve into smut or snuff.

“Closet” focuses on Tasuku (Yosuke Minokawa), who’s fresh out a relationship and still recuperating after a motorcycle accident. He begins working at a “Soine” (“sleeping together”) company in Tokyo. His clients are both men and women and range in age from teenagers to the aged. There are strict rules forbidding sexual contact.

Tasuku develops a rapport with a teenage girl (Aino Kuribayashi) who’s in a relationship with a manipulative shitheel of a kid. He helps a gay man (Ikkei Watanabe) come to peace with himself and his relationship – the man in turn does the same for Tasuku. There’s an interesting and affecting segment wherein an elderly woman calls upon Tasuku to stay at her home for 48 hours to help her usher her deceased husband’s lizard into the afterlife.

As written by Aya Sawada and directed by Takehiro Shindo, “Closet” is well-acted and emotionally resonant. It kinda reminded me of “Crash” (Paul Haggis’ not David Cronenberg’s) and Alejandro González Iñárritu’s “Babel” (more the latter than the former). It wasn’t what I ignorantly expected going in, but it was a pleasing watch nonetheless.

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