Forgiven Children (2020) review [Nippon Connection online]


When we reviewed Eisuke Naito’s Liverleaf (2018), we feared that Naito’s indulgence in impactful violence would render his important message against bullying powerless. Now with Forgiven Children Eisuke Naito tackles the problem of bullying within Japanese society. Will this narrative succeed were liverleaf (2018) faltered?



One day, four youthful delinquents, Kira (Yu Uemura), Shawn (-), Kamyu (-) and Gurimu (Ryuju Sumikawa) meet up with Itsuki (Takuya Abe), who is bullied by them, to play with the crossbows Itsuki made for them. When Itsuki, in the eyes of Kira, defies him too much, he shoots with his crossbow and kills him.

Even though Kira confesses to the crime upon hearing that Gurimu has told everything, Kira’s lawyer skillfully constructs a narrative that sells his innocence. While he is, indeed, due to a lack of evidence, found innocent at the juvenile trial, Itsuki’s parents decide to take the matter to the civil court. And the vicious netizens, as vicious as they are, want justice as well.

NC20_Official Selection_Forgiven Children_06

While the group of delinquents, led by Kira, indulge in a rather senseless kind of violent destruction, the true goal of their actions is nothing other the attainment of some enjoyment. They are, in other words, not violent because they enjoy it, but because it allows them to enjoy the playful transgression of the law. As Naito beautifully evokes, the ultimate moment of enjoyment lies not in the destruction of the handcrafted puppets on the side of the road, but in the successful escape from the police.

Nevertheless, when Kira kills his classmate Itsuki, the transgression of the law is not playful anymore. Kira’s intended attack but unintended murder puts him beyond just fooling around, beyond playing with the law. His act, by truly transgressing the law, does not put Kira outside the law, but inscribes the transgression, non-erasable, into his subjectivity. One could even state, by virtue of its homophony with the English word killer, has turned his name Kira into a constant reminder of the transgressive act he cannot erase.

NC20_Official Selection_Forgiven Children_11

Yet, Kira’s lawyer, by playing perversely with the rules of the game and with the mind of Gurimu, succeeds in undoing Gurimu’s and Kira’s confession and sell, with Kira’s corporation and aided by his mother (Yoshi Kuroiwa), a narrative constructed around a fundamental lie (Narra-note 1). While this lie, of course, destroys Itsuki’s parents and allows Kira’s mother to remain, as she desires, blind to her son’s delinquent act, this is not the most important effect of the lie. The lie, by disabling Kira from assuming the responsibility of his crime in the symbolic societal field and from giving it a place within his subjective narrative, forces him to live with the unspoken and, in many ways, unsymbolized truth of his transgressive violent act. The change in his personality, the frustration that comes to mark him, is solely function of the inability to subjectify his violent act. Kira’s mother’s desire to protect him has, in fact, taken away the possibility for him to find any form of happiness (Narra-note 2 (spoiler)).

Forgiven Children (2020) by Eisuke Naito

The role of mass-media, as the narrative beautifully evokes, is that it empowers or even better enflames participation. It enables participation, a pleasurable participation around the desire to see justice served, to such a degree, that this desire for justice becomes persecutory (Narra-note 3). When Kira’s mother, in an attempt to remain blind about her son’s subjectivity and his violent act, starts to distribute her interpretation of Kira’s past to people on the street, it is not only to try to change people perception but also in order to try to counter the persecutory power of mass media and the internet.

The persecutory power of internet has – it must be said – turned each members of the family into a victim as well. They are, in truth, not victim of the desire for justice, but from the enjoyment that fuels this desire, e.g. journalists enjoy trying to uncover the truth, people enjoy attacked the house, attacking Kira, … etc. (Narra-note 4). The desire of justice gives, in truth, a certain righteousness to their own violent enjoyment (and transgressions).

NC20_Official Selection_Forgiven Children_17

One of the most important scenes – I would even say it is the pivotal scene of Forgiven Children – is the scene were the students are asked to reflect on the causes of and reasons for bullying. Even though the discussion touches upon many different things, the reasoning that stands out is the reasoning that the bullied person is the very cause of the bulling because he fails to conform to the group. What is also remarkable is that no one succeeds to explicitly underline the dimension of pleasure ever in play in the act of bullying.

The composition of Forgiven Children is energetic. The energy of the visual unfolding is function of the montage, i.e. the application of the cut and the changes of pace, the dynamic use of cinematographical movement, and the eclectic musical accompaniment. In truth, it is the interplay between these three elements that enables the narrative to evoke a diverse palette of emotions and moods and sustain the bleakness that sensibly lingers throughout the narrative.

NC20_Official Selection_Forgiven Children_19

One other aspect that truly deserves praise is the splendid sound-design. Naito, besides using sounds to make the impact of the violence truly sensible, also utilizes the sound-design to highlight food-related sounds, which is a few cases evoke something of the subjective state of Kira. For instance, when Kira, after the tragic transgressive act, tries to eat dinner at home, the sound of him playing with his meatballs echoes the subjective impact of his act.

Eisuke Naito’s Forgiven Children provides a splendid and sensible exploration of the interpersonal and social persecutory face of bullying. In exploring both forms of bullying, Naito beautifully underlines the centrality of enjoyment – the enjoyment powering bullying as such as well as the perverse enjoyment fueling the netizens on social media. But Naito’s narrative is not a mere exploration of bullying. It is also – and this is the most central to the narrative, a study of how a subject, deprived of the symbolic means to assume his crime, can still successfully subjectify his crime and realize a re-birth.



Narra-note 1: Let us note that the untruthful narrative Kira’s lawyer fabricates is made believable with truths. In other words, the lawyer manipulated the truth – and to be correct one lie of the Kira’s mother about his time of coming-home – in order to sell his fake innocence.

Narra-note 2: The ending sequence frames the personal way by which Kira is able to make a new start for himself, by which he, without inscribing his crime within the symbolic system, is able to punish himself. When he attacks the bully with the crossbow, he attacks him not to stop the bullying as such, but to punish himself in the other. When he destroys the little shrine dedicated to Itsuki, it is not to affirm his hate for Isuki, but to attempt to erase his past.

Narra-note 3: By using the signifier pleasurable, we attempt to underline that those that participate in the desire for justice enjoy this desire to see justice served. Evidence for this enjoyment is found in the violent remarks on internet as well as the variety of attacks on Kira’s parental house.

What further underlines the centrality of enjoyment is the very fact that it is not only Kira’s family falls victim of the perversity of social media, but Itsuki’s parents as well.

Narra-note 4: The justice of social media is a perverse kind of justice that has no relation to the justice as it functions within the system of the law. While the legal system is prone to mistakes, the justice expressed by social media is a predatory justice driven by emotions and enjoyment.


One Comment Add yours

  1. Nill Newt says:

    a remarkable and powerful movie. Possibly the best I’ve seen about bullying. Quite a ferocious case about -as you wrote- the persecutory power of the internet. Few characters generate empathy apart from Momoko. As good as it is, I’m afraid the film just like a debate or a documentary won’t change a thing about the plague that bullying is, in Japan but also in many a country…

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s