Roar (2020) review

Introduction

With Roar, Ryo Katayama presents his first feature film to the audience. With his debut, a film rooted in his own history and his relationship with Fukui, he attempts to present an indie-narrative different from the usual indie-narratives.  

Review

One day, the Hashimoto family hears that their oldest son, Tadashi, has committed murder. Unable to accept this fact, the father of the family, Tadayasu Hashimoto (-) commits suicide.

Confronted with the body, Tadashi’s younger brother Makato (Anraku Ryo) runs away. Just when Makoto was going to commit suicide, his phone starts ringing. He throws his phone away and runs off. Luckily, due to a chance encounter with Manabu (Katayama Ryo), he finds a place to shelter.

Hiromo (Ota Mie), a radio-broadcaster, has been stuck in an affair with Mr. Nomura (Omiya Shoji), her boss. He not only forces her to make-out at work, but also subjects her to experiments with remote controlled sex-toys during and outside work. One day, she is introduced by Mayuko (Kishi Mari) to a handsome man (Nakayama Takuya) she knows.

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Roar, for its narrative set-up, delves into the presence of the local Other or, in other words, the impact of the local Other on the subject. Formulated in more layman terms, we can state that the various members of the family, but Makoto (subject) in particular, due to Tadashi being a murderer, feel that they will become or already are a target of gossip (Other).

It is therefore not surprising that Makoto starts to question the very possibility of him establishing a future. He senses very well that, due to the power of the local Other, the sin of the brother might haunt him, that his brother’s act might defile his future chances. His escape, his running-away, can thus be understood as a form of accepting his supposedly helpless position. The suicide of the father needs, in this respect, to be read in the same vein. Even though his suicide can be considered as being morally responsible, his act must be understood as an escape from the damning and oppressive look of local Other (Narra-note 1).

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Manabu, the non-talkative guy who allows Makoto to stay at his place, is someone who earns money by beating up people, by exacting revenge on behalf of those who pay. He is often asked to violently intervene within matters of extra-marital relations – to violently reproach the third party that has problematized the supposed marital happiness – or to remind others violently of their responsibilities (Narra-note 2).

Manabu’s non-talkative nature, as is subtly evoked, is linked to his past. Manabu, just like Makoto (and Tadashi), is burdened by his past. When Makoto comes to understand the burden that he carries, he decides to make Manabu stop hurting others. Manabu functions, in other words, as a stand-in brother, a brother he can save in order to secure a future for himself. He could do nothing for Tadashi, but he can save or at least try to save Manabu from succumbing to the same fate.

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The middle part of the narrative is slow – for some, too slow – and devoid of any radical plot development, but Roar makes most of that up by ending with a powerful finale, a finale marked by a sense of fatalism as well as an element of empowerment. The roar of powerlessness and the roar of empowerment, both made painfully sensible for the spectator, successfully etches the narrative in the spectator’s mind. Moreover, by way of its finale, Ryo Katayama successfully urges the spectator to reconsider the senselessness of violence and question the problematic dimension of the power dynamics between a male senior and a female junior.

The opening of Roar features one of the finest compositional uses of the POV-viewpoint. Due to the use of these kind of shots, the opening composition does not only frame memory fragments as they flash by, but put the spectator, which is forced to share the look of Tadashi, more directly within the experience of those memory fragments flashing by.

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Later on, the cinematographical composition offers a more standard affair: a mixture of static shots, shaky dynamic shots and fluid moving shots. Nevertheless, as the camera is often used to empower the psychological – e.g. the subjective impact events have on Makoto, or to guide the framing of violence, one can discern a clear preference for compositions with shaky moving shots. As a matter of fact, in some of these compositions POV shots are used as well. These shots – now forcing the spectator to share the looking of Makoto – are often used to underline the fact that Makoto feels looked at by the other/Other (Cine-Note 1).

Another highlight of Roar concerns the sound-design. Sounds are smartly used to create, at certain moments, an oppressive atmosphere that sensible impacts the spectator. This atmosphere, whenever it is evoked, empowers either the act that is framed, e.g. the murder by Tadashi, or underlines the impact of the certain situation on the character in focus (e.g. the discovery of his father’s suicide by Makoto). The dull sounds that support the framing of violence – a framing that avoids at any cost a kind of idealization, have a double interrelated function. These sounds, naturally, empower the impact of the punches, but by doing so they also underline the nihilistic aspect that marks violence.

Roar (2020) [Ryo Katayama]

Roar is a great debut for Katayama, as he is able to show off his aptitude in translating creative ideas into effective and powerful compositions on the screen as well as using sound as a powerful medium of evoking the subjective dimension. Yes, the middle part of the narrative may be a tad too slow for some, but the finely composed finale confronts the spectator powerfully with the senselessness of violence and the problematic dimension of the sexual power dynamics.

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Notes

Narra-note 1: Makoto’s desire to commit suicide is mainly caused by his inability to see any future for himself in the societal space. Suicide would have been the most radical way to accept his imaged fate.

Narra-note 2: Manabu’s job is a job that lies beyond any ethical dimension. Those who pay, he serves. His job does not concern itself with right or wrong in a true ethical sense.

Cine-note 1: In one instance, a POV shot is used to frame Mr. Nomura’s perspective.

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