Bolt (2020) review [Nippon Connection 2021]

Introduction

Kaizo Hayashi, a veteran Japanese director, might not be a name cinema-lovers readily know, but one might know one of the films of his neo-noir Maiku Hama trilogy (The Most Terrible Time in My Life (1994), Stairway to the Distant Past (1995) and The Trap (1996)). Last year, he delivered his take on the national trauma of the Tohoku earthquake.

Review

Bolt is a narrative that takes a real event – the seismic and nuclear disaster in Tohoku on March eleventh – and spins three fictional episodic narratives around it. In each of these three episodes, one different ‘affective’ element, an element impacting the comportment of the characters, is central. One could even contend that each narrative is developed around this ‘affective element’. The three affects, affects that, without any doubt, mark the survivors of the disaster in Fukushima, are: responsibility, guilt, and sadness through loss.

Bolt (2020) by Kaizo Hayashi
©L’espace Vision, Dream Kid, Kaizo Production

The first episode called Bolt focuses on the mission our middle-aged men (Masatoshi Nagase, Shiro Sano, Hirohito Goto, Kazuhiko Kanayama) embark to tighten a bolt to avoid the radio-active cooling water from polluting the societal future. This episode is structured around the generational conflict, with the seniors forbidding the two youngest team-members, despite one youngster’s eagerness to help tighten the bolt with his supposedly more virile muscle power, to sacrifice themselves in the dangerous attempt to keep the future of the area clean. One could, in fact, argue that the first episode deals with nothing other than the notion of responsibility.

The second episode titled Life deals with two men who are tasked to clean out a house of a recently deceased within the perimeter around the Fukushima plant. One (Shima Ohnishi) does it for the money, while the other guy (Masatoshi Nagase) volunteered – quite possible to quelch some of the guilt he has surrounding what happened within the nuclear plant. The second episode, in other words, deals with the impact of guilt on our comportment but also touches upon the sole demand that survivors of such disasters, despite all the physical ruin and social destruction, are subjected to, i.e. the demand to keep on living.

Bolt (2020) by Kaizo Hayashi
©L’espace Vision, Dream Kid, Kaizo Production

The final episode titled Good Year focuses, once more, on the middle-aged guy (Masatoshi Nagase), who survived the exposure to radiation when the disaster at the Fukushima plant happened. One night, while working on something in the abounded factory he lives, a sudden loud noise disturbs him. Going outside, he discovers a crashed car and an unconscious woman (Sarara Tsukifune) at the wheel. Who is she? The final episode, in contrast to the other two episodes, focuses, in a subtle fantastical manner, on the impact that the loss of a beloved has on the subject.   

What stands out in the dynamic composition of Bolt is the artistic way in which Hayashi creatively combines cinematographical decorations and unconventional or finely geometrical composed shots into an expressive and pleasing whole. While many Japanese directors these days opt for a rather straightforward and sober composition – to the point of forgetting to infuse their own personality and style into their visuals, Hayashi made sure his work is visually enticing and, at times, highly evocative (Cine-note 1).

Bolt (2020) by Kaizo Hayashi
©L’espace Vision, Dream Kid, Kaizo Production

The composition of the first episode is also noteworthy for its subtle play with rhythm – this play is, in fact, one of the reasons why Bolt’s first episode is so engaging for the spectator. While the tension is, of course, supported by the performances and the narrative’s context, it is quite often the subtle manipulation of rhythm that truly ensures that the heightened tension is sensible for the spectator (Sound-note 1). The composition of the second and third episode are more sober and subdued in style, but spectators will easily notice that Hayashi stuffed this more sober compositions with artful and finely geometrically composed shots and subtly evocative sequences.  

Bolt is a great narrative by Kaizo Hayashi that explores, via the structure fiction, the truth of three different affects – responsibility, guilt, and sadness through loss – during and in the aftermath of the Fukushima disaster. What stands out in Hayashi’s narrative is, nevertheless, not the thematical or its emotional depth – the first episode does provide a harrowing experience, but the very style by which Hayashi framed his narrative.

Notes

Cine-note 1: The evocative moments in Hayashi’s composition are function of a thoughtful poetic use of the metonymic or associative dimension of language.

Sound-note 1: We should not forget to mention that the refined sound-design also plays an important role in the creation of the tensive atmosphere in the first episode.

Dark industrial musical pieces, on the other hand, are utilized throughout the three episodes. But rather than relying on these pieces to ensure that tension remains sensible for the spectator, Hayashi uses such pieces more as a decorative element, to highlight the harrowing and dangerous nature of the invisible real that is called radiation.  

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