Adolescence is a surreal time of life, often feeling unreal, disorienting, and positively bizarre to those going through it. We know some of the reasons for this—a spurt in brain development, a mismatch between societal expectations and the typical course of physical and emotional development—but scientific explanations offer little assistance to a person actually going through adolescence, and doesn’t necessarily invoke empathy from those who have left those years safely behind. Art can step into the void here, offering a representation of what it feels like to be an adolescent today, and film seems to me to be a particularly good medium for this kind of communication.
Interestingly enough, this week I saw two films that tried to present adolescence from the inside out: Eighth Grade, directed by Bo Burnham (a 28-year-old man), and Amiko, directed by Yoko Yamanaka (a 20-year-old woman). Both focus on the emotional lives of a none-too-remarkable adolescent girl, and both are well worth seeing. Still, if I had to pick one to recommend over the other, it would be Amiko. The main reason is the simplicity and immediacy of Yamanaka’s film (reportedly made on a budget of $2500), which lends a special edge to the rawness of emotions experienced by its central character. It’s also a perfect festival film (it’s currently playing at Fantasia 2018), because you have to be up for something a bit different in order to enjoy it.
Amiko (Aira Sunohara) is a schoolgirl in Nagano, an area she doesn’t hold in much regard. One day, more or less out of the blue, she falls for a fellow student, Aomi (Hiroto Oshita), who plays on the school soccer team. Not that he’s any kind of a star, however: his favorite trick when he tires of running wind sprints is to fake an injury. When Amiko discovers they both like Radiohead, in her mind it’s a match made in heaven. But she keeps her feelings tightly locked within herself, because, as she tells us in voiceover, “ordinary, poor souls could never understand the two of us.”
Unfortunately, there’s no “two of us” as far as Aomi is concerned, and eventually he leaves for Tokyo to shack up with an older woman. So of course Amiko must go there to track him down, because when you’re obsessed, common sense doesn’t really come in to the picture. Double that if you are an obsessed adolescent, and one of the great strengths of Amiko is that Yamanaka and Sunohara actually convince us that Amiko’s actions are coherent if viewed from within her world.
Amiko mixes up a lot of different filmmaking styles, mirroring the disordered and ever-changing emotional world of the central character, and takes some risks that might have fallen flat in the hands of a less sure-handed director. I’m honestly not sure what’s up with the lemon symbolism, for instance, but it works perfectly well within this film, as does an echoing of the famous scene in Jean-Luc Godard’s Bande a part when Anna Karina, Sami Frey, and Claude Brasseur dance the Madison in a Parisian café. | Sarah Boslaugh
Amiko is playing at the 2018 Fantasia Film Festival in Montreal. You can find more information about the festival here.