Japanese indie drama ‘Ken and Kazu’ depicts the wages of dealing drugs | Lifestyle.INQ

OCTOBER 27, 2022

“KEN and Kazu” shows that even methpimping thugs know love and loyalty.
“KEN and Kazu” shows that even methpimping thugs know love and loyalty.
“KEN and Kazu” shows that even methpimping thugs know love and loyalty.

CALL it timely coincidence.


The indie crime drama “Ken and Kazu,” one of the highlights of the 2016 Eiga Sai, the annual Japanese film festival mounted by Japan Foundation Manila, brings to mind the spate of extrajudicial killings of suspected drug pushers that followed Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte’s declaration of war on drugs.


A story about drug dealers—that breed of people our chief executive is most allergic to—the film was screened Saturday night (Aug. 6) at a packed Tanghalang Aurelio Tolentino at the Cultural Center of the Philippines (CCP), during the Cinemalaya Independent Film Festival.


Film creator Hiroshi Shoji and line producer Yumi Honda flew to Manila to grace the event. They were also guests of honor at the Cinemalaya opening on Friday (Aug. 5).


This year’s alliance between Eiga Sai and Cinemalaya not only allows a crossover of films between the two festivals but has also introduced Japanese guest filmmakers to a larger audience.


In a one-on-one interview with Inquirer Lifestyle at Hotel Jen on Roxas Boulevard, Shoji said he intended for the film to go against the grain and develop a narrative that did not need bombastic or complicated elements. Such practices, he explained, were a recent trend in Japan whose filmmakers want to deliver shock or surprise.


He echoed the concern of veteran director-screenwriter Masato Harada, this year’s Eiga Sai’s first guest filmmaker, about the dearth of original material that actually gets the green light for production.


A graduate of Tokyo Film Center School of Arts, the 30-year-old Shoji wrote, produced, directed and edited “Ken and Kazu,” based on the short film he made in 2011 of the same title. He has had 10 short films, some of which have attracted the attention of Japanese film fests/award-giving bodies.


He pooled the estimated 2.5-million-yen cost of the feature film through crowd-funding as well as loaning money from his mother and brothers. He also worked part-time jobs in restaurants, and accepted wedding videography and project-based production gigs.


SHINSUKE Kato (Ken) and Katsuya Maiguma (Kazu) deliver strong acting chemistry as the titular characters.
SHINSUKE Kato (Ken) and Katsuya Maiguma (Kazu) deliver strong acting chemistry as the titular characters.

It took more than two years for Shoji to finish his first full-length feature, but all the hard work eventually paid off.


At the 2015 Tokyo International Film Festival, the full-length version won the Japanese Cinema Splash division’s Best Picture Award, a prestigious honor that comes with a cash prize of one million yen bestowed on Japanese indie films.


Shoji landed a distributor in Japan afterward, allowing “Ken and Kazu” regular screenings in a Tokyo cinema. He and Honda, who also interprets for him, have been touring the festival circuit to gain exposure for the film outside their country.


Critics have praised Shoji’s work for its gritty depiction of gun-less violence and brutality, as well as for strong character development and acting chemistry.


HIROSHI Shoji, writer-producer-directoreditor of “Ken and Kazu”; line producer Yumi Honda FRAN KATIGBAK
HIROSHI Shoji, writer-producer-director-editor of “Ken and Kazu”; line producer Yumi Honda FRAN KATIGBAK

The titular characters initially come off as just a pair of deceitful lowlifes who serve the yakuza. Yet, behind the thuggery and meth-pimping, Ken and Kazu are complex human beings—one hoping to provide for his lover and unborn child, the other seeking better care for a mom who suffers from dementia.


Here’s a tragic tale that finds a way to flesh out the humanity even in the worst possible kind of individuals—a stark contrast to the state of our nation, where “cardboard justice” is meted out even unto those who have yet to be proven guilty.


The 2016 Eiga Sai will run until Aug. 21. Remaining screenings are at FDCP Cinematheque Baguio (Aug. 15); UP Film Institute, Quezon City (Aug. 17-20); and Ayala Center Cebu Cinema (Aug. 17-21).

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