By Aaron Rourke (Melbourne, Australia)
Breezy and ingratiating, with several laugh-out-loud moments, Setoutsumi is a small film about nothing in particular, but most definitely comes highly recommended. Inspired by the mumblecore genre that has garnered a cult following in the U.S. (lead by directors such as Andrew Bujalski, the Duplass brothers, and Joe Swanberg), we are introduced to a couple of teenagers who discuss topics that seem important to them.
Each afternoon, high school students Seto (Masaki Suda) and Utsumi (Sosuke Ikematsu) meet at some concrete steps located next to the local river, to ruminate over whatever issue they deem significant that day. Seto is lively and extroverted, always ready to give his opinion to those around him. Utsumi on the other hand shies away from contact with his fellow students, preferring to concentrate on reading, study, and intellectual research. The two are total opposites, but have somehow managed to find a middle ground where they can talk about an abundant amount of subjects, even if they disagree on most of them.
Broken up into a series of separate stories, each one using a single topic as a launchpad so the pair can verbally wander elsewhere, we listen to them examine matters such as Seto’s beloved cat, his pushy mother who keeps calling him, and the crush he has on Ichigo (Ayami Nakajo), a female student whom he can’t find the courage to text.
Utsumi tries to educate Seto in a number of ways, along with an attempt to refine his social etiquette, with little success. Both are threatened by the same school bully, and Utsumi is completely unaware that Ichigo harbours feelings for him instead of the love-struck Seto.
Based on the manga by Kazuya Konomoto, screenwriters Dai Miyazaki and Tatsushi Omori cleverly use this existing source as a foundation, building a reliable framework that its main actors can then confidently and freely improvise around. Too many modern comedies fall down due to undisciplined ad-libbing, bloating the screen time of a joke that may not have been funny in the first place. Here there is a perfect balance, allowing the charming material to attain added nuance and flavour.
Soda and Ikematsu bring the title characters to life with exuberant, seemingly effortless skill, and is another great example of how a film can benefit from terrific chemistry. Bouncing off each other with deceptive ease, they blend the written and the spontaneous to perfection, and it’s a joy when laughs genuinely seem to come from left field. These talented young actors have worked together in three other films; Pink And Gray, Death Note: Light Up the New World, and Destruction Babies, and their familiarity with each other proves an invaluable asset.
The other major role of note, Ichigo, is nicely played by Nakajo, whose reactions to Seto and Utsumi’s unusual friendship and conversations are natural and believable.
Director Tatsushi Omori knows how to craft an entertaining story based around two very different characters. He helmed Tada’s Do-It-All House (2011) and its 2014 follow-up, Tada’s Do-It-All House: Disconcerto, starring Ryuhei Matsuda and Eita, and crafted the sombre drama The Ravine of Goodbye (2013), starring Yoko Maki and Nao Omori. His understanding of the material is both intelligent and restrained, and obviously knows how to effectively guide his youthful cast members. He also manages to give his film a crisp, visually pleasing look, even though the budget afforded him is very small.
Setoutsumi is delightfully irreverent, presenting two strangers who end up coming across like friendly acquaintances, people who we would like to cross paths with again in the future. After an idyllically edited 75 minutes, you walk away with a smile on your face, sensing that these characters have not outstayed their welcome.