Setagaya Game (2023) review


The Ohara Bros (Ken and Go Ohara) first impressed audiences with their short-film Carpe Diem (2019). Now, after four years, they are ready to introduce their next short narrative to the public. Yet, instead of submitting their latest at various film festivals, the Ohara Bros decide to release their short film in its entirety on YouTube (see below). So, can the Ohara Bros prove, once again, their talent?


One night, while camping indoors, a drunk Takeru Shinjo (Ruiji Takahashi) tries to explain to his friend Michi (Sho Iisaka) and his girlfriend Kotomi Jounouchi (Akari Natsume) that his life is being controlled by someone and that his recent failure to land a decent job is due this entity’s intervention.  

Kotomi tries to dispel his fatalistic and slightly paranoid outlook on his life, but before he can respond he passes out. Waking up, he finds himself all alone in his tent on a riverbank. Yet, he soon finds out that Michi has been murdered and Kotomi has been kidnapped. Can he rescue her?  

Setagaya Game (2023) by the Ohara Bros

The opening of Setagaya game makes it clear that Takeru grasps onto the paranoid answer to avoid to question his own acts and signifiers. By paranoically relying on a malicious Other, he succeeds in putting the cause of his failure to attain the ideal-image that seemed so easy to reach outside himself.  

Yet, by holding on to this answer, one that neatly explains his current suffering, Takeru imprisons his own subject. The repetitive cycle of drinking and spouting out conspiracy theories, in fact, illustrates the very subjective deadlock that his failure to question himself over the inability to land a job fit for his ego caused. Yet, what can rescue Takeru’s subject of this self-imposed prison? Will the sudden confrontation with the body of his best friend and the kidnapping of his precious girlfriend strengthen his paranoiac view on his life or offer him a chance to break the shackles that dictated his empty signifiers and acts?  

Setagaya Game (2023) by the Ohara Bros

The narrative structure of Setagaya Game is, just like One Cut Of The Dead (2018), built around a twist. While the Ohara Bros’s narrative may very have been inspired by such kind of Japanese narratives, they succeeded in giving the narrative dynamic a fresh spin. The delivery of their twist is spot-on and the twist has a thematical sense. While in comical narratives, such kind of twist does often little more than shake things up, Setagaya Game makes sure that the twist shakes Takeru’s subject up. In fact, it is by intertwining the twist with the thematical dimension of the narrative that the Ohara Bros succeed in delivering a surprisingly touching finale.  

The Ohara Bros deliver a dynamic composition that supports the staging of Takeru’s emotional state and succeeds in enhancing the impact of the action-choreographies (Cine-note 1). The way the Ohara Bros utilize their dynamism to frame the fighting does not merely give these moments of violence an engaging fast-paced visual rhythm, but also enables the spectator to enjoy the beautiful execution of the fighting moves and Tatsuya Kaneko’s choreographies.

Setagaya Game (2023) by the Ohara Bros

Besides creating an effective rhythm that keeps the spectator engaged throughout the narrative, the Ohara bros also integrate many moments of visual beauty into their composition. The way they utilize the fluid tracking shot within action-moments does not merely emphasize the dynamism of the action-on-screen, but also succeeds in offering a visual moment that poetically celebrates movement as such. The dynamism of the composition is further enhanced by decorative pieces of music.

What turns Setagaya Game into such a satisfying narrative is not merely its well-choreographed action-sequences and the engaging visual rhythm, but the way the narrative twist enhances the thematical dimension of the narrative – i.e. the self-sabotaging reflex of the subject. As a result, the narrative does not only offer a pleasant concatenation of kicks and punches, but also delivers a touching emotional pay-off. In short, the Ohara Bros keep impressing.


Cine-note: For instance, to reverberate the blossoming of Takeru’s emotional turmoil upon finding the dead body of Michi, The Ohara bros utilize an elegant shift from fluid to shaky dynamism.


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