His Bad Blood (2019) review [Fantasia Film Festival]


Koichiro Oyama’s His Bad Blood , Winner of an Audience Award at the Yubari International Fantastic Film Festival, proves why cinematographical products – as objects of art – are often better at explaining psychoanalytic theoretical facets then any theoretical text would be able to. So without further ado, we present our review this highly original reflection on intergenerational sins, symbolic fathers, and morality.



When Yoshitaka (Akio Kaneda) arrives at the hospital where his sister, Kayoko (-) is giving birth, he immediately asks where his sister’s husband Hiroshi (Ikkei Watanabe)is. The grandfather promptly answers that Hiroshi is getting some clothes. Hearing this answer, the brother immediately leaves to pick him up, only to find, once arrived, the house rummaged through – for money. Hiroshi, still present in the house, attacks Yoshitaka and flees. At night, the villagers succeed in capturing the criminal. Before Yoshitaka can administer the final blow, the local reverend is able to stop him.


For thirty years, Kayoko and Shinichi (Yu Toyama), her son, have been living alone. Recently, a string of burglaries have startled the community. When Hiroshi puts the blame on Shinichi, the community sees no other option than to expel him.

While one can say that His Bad Blood fluidly mixes different genres, e.g. comedy, drama, and romance, the quirky narrative is, at heart, nothing other than a coming-of-age narrative – the very last shot of the narrative implies nothing other. What makes this narrative mix so enjoyable, so pleasing, is the very fluidity by which it interweaves the different genre-flavours into a ravishing whole. The lightheartedness, for instance, is born from the subtle absurdness that ripples the otherwise ordinary everydayness.


This genre mix only attains its naturalness and fluidness because of the amazing narrative structure. Koichiro Oyama has, in fact, created an amazing narrative structure, a structure that succeeds in pushing all the right buttons at the right moments. What could have been a mess, a mix between Yakuza, Christians, and the notion of sin, turns, in Oyama’s care, into a very moving coming-of-age narrative, a narrative questioning the relation of a son to his father. Oyama questions this relation through the inter-generational aspect of the sin. The narrative beautifully shows how the sin of the father, the father reduced to a real human, defines, through the others’ speech, the son. In other words, the community produces, for Shinichi, no other place than the place of trash – from the moment his father was trashed, there was no other place for him than that place of trash.

In order to better situate Shinichi’s acts of escaping, we should take the relation of the son with his mother into account. Do we not sense a sort of dual clinging in this relationship – the eye of the mother ever present, a relationship that is too close and borders on the incestual? Are his escapes not an escape from (the suffocating eye of) his mother, an eye he also needs, as well as an escape from the accusing Other that fixates him in the place of trash. Does His Bad Blood not reveal, by the malicious framing of Shinichi as thief, that this idea of bad blood is but a mere fiction? A fiction that, as it is carried by the Other (including the mother), does not fail to sort subjective effects? One can see that Shinichi, beyond the Other that position him, can only see the sin that marks his absent father – a sin that remains present despite his absence


Later in the narrative, it is revealed that Shinichi has problems living alone. The lack of a third point – a father? – seemingly left him without the possibility to orient himself. In fact, what he escapes from and what he needs at the same time is the very mirror his mother is for him. Shinichi nevertheless reveals that he is able, based on the mirror/mother, to orient himself somewhat in the societal field. It is the reverend Genichiro, a fatherly figure that provides him shelter and installs a distance between him and his mother, that forces Shinichi’s process-of-becoming (Narra-note 1).

The second narrative line concerns the local Yakuza (and the construction of the Linear train-line). It is within this narrative line that Shinichi’s father, his relation to hostess Alisa (Nodi), and, most importantly, his scams turns up (Narra-note 2). While Hiroshi is absent for Shinichi as father, one of the members, Koji (Sakura Enomoto), before turning himself in – in order to repent for the scam that failed, evokes the familial feeling he received from being close to him. Hiroshi, for his part, returns to the reverend – the same reverend that is sheltering his son, and invites him to lay low at his place.


It is there, at the place where both Shinichi and Hiroshi are together, that the reverend forces Hiroshi, whenever he cans, to interact with Shinichi – of course Hiroshi does not know Shinichi is his son (Narra-note 3). This non-knowing creates a subtle tension into the narrative, a tension that, once the secret is revealed, uncovers the narrative‘s central theme: is it possible to have a positive relation with this man, a man who never functioned as a father, a swindling man that was only able to define him by his sin (Narra-note 3, Narra-note 4 (spoiler)? While the answer the narrative poses to this question may be harsh – painfully harsh, it is also the only possible answer – an moving answer touching upon a fundamental Freudian truth (Psycho-note 1 (spoiler)).

While the cinematography of His Bad Blood has moments of fixity, it is its moving nature, a mix between slow spatial movement and subtle fluid following movements, that stands out (Cine-Note 1). Oyama has, in fact, created a natural and thoughtful cinematographical compositional support – a support that heightens the enjoyment the spectator can get from the narrative tremendously. This fluidity is not only attained by way of nice compositions, the pleasant way of structuring the unfolding of certain scenes, but also by the natural way in which flashbacks are integrated into the narrative’s unfolding (Cine-note 2). These flashbacks are so thoughtfully integrated that they do not fail to produce meaning, associative meaning that evokes either something of Shinichi’s subjective position or of Hiroshi’s subjective position. The pleasant compositional support is further spiced with subtle visual elements (e.g. when Hiroshi is searching for money, the program on television echoes the coming birth) and some truly artful shots (e.g. the shots where Yoshitaka is hitting Hiroshi with a gun, the shot where Shinichi floats on the water) (Narra-note 5, Cine-note 3).


While His Bad Blood has a great cinematography, the moving nature of the narrative finds its specific origin in the musical support. The subtle over-dramatization that the music infuses in the narrative’s spaces works great. That the narrative has been able to find such a beautiful balance between lightheartedness, some touching romance, and dramatic seriousness – a dramatic seriousness that, when violence bursts into the frame, turns rather grim, is mainly function of its musical support. That this amazing mixture of narrative and cinematography can also count on some fine performances by Yu Toyama and Ikkei Watanabe is just yummy icing on the already delicious cake.

His Bad Blood is a truly amazing coming-of-age narrative. This is, in first instance, not due to the fine acting, the masterful cinematography or the effective musical accompaniment, but due to the crystal-clear way in which Oyama uncovers, as psycho-analysts well know, the problem of fatherhood and its only functional solution. If there is one narrative that one needs to see this year, besides Ninomiya’s Chiwawa, it is Oyama’s fabulous debut.




Narra-note 1: One of the scams concerns the car-accident-scene where two youngsters are, however one turns it, unjustly accused of breaking a pot.

Narra-note 2: Note that Hiroshi is only able to interact with Shinichi when the reverend introduces the shiny fantasy of money. This reveals Hiroshi as a man easily blinded by the shining quality of money. In other words, the aspect of money drives his actions.

Narra-note 3: Not that this question comes down to answering the question of Hiroshi’s ability to change as a person. In this way, the true question of the narrative is: Is Hiroshi able to change or will he remain driven by the shininess of money – a shininess that turns him to scamming people?

Narra-note 4: Beyond the question of being able to relate to him, the narrative does imply that this passage, i.e. living at the reverend’s place and having a brief shared time with his biological father, positively affected him. In truth, one has to credit the reverend, as symbolic instance, for this positive change.

Do note that Shinichi, against all odds and all swindles, desires a bond with his this person who is his biological father. And that Hiroshi, against all odds and swindles, did not forget his idea to form a company with his son.

Narra-note 5: It also subtle foreshadows the Christian elements that are part of the narrative.

Psycho-note 1: The only way the father can function is as a dead father. Through Hiroshi’s dead, he can finally attain, for Shinichi, a position as symbolic father. Note that it is only at the end, at the funeral, that Shinichi can use the signifier father (chichi) to refer to Hiroshi.

Cine-note 1: In one instance, more concretely the instance of the villagers seeking Hiroshi, shaky movement is applied.

Cine-note 2: The natural way of composing, combining combine two temporally concurrent narrative sides or into one fluid unfolding, of course concerns editing.

Cine-note 3: The use of colour-schemes enables Oyama to fluidly divide between the past (the flashback) and the present (as that what immediately becomes the past in the process of unfolding).


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