OAFF: Cafune (2023)

Haruki Kinemura’s short feature debut is as well-observed as it is succinct, depicting an unplanned teen pregnancy in a Japanese port town. Its brevity is, as always, likely to hamper its chances with a wide audience, which is a shame: the truth is this quality film is simply the length that its story needs it to be. If I could have one wish come true in international cinema this year, it would be that audiences embrace the short feature with more enthusiasm.

Mio (Suika Yamazaki) skips class at school to take what turns out to be a positive pregnancy test. Although she immediately goes to speak to her boyfriend Nagisa (Taishi), Mio fails to inform him of what has happened. Shortly after a doctor’s appointment sees her pressured to consider an abortion, Mio’s mother discovers the hidden pregnancy test and makes the situation all the more stressful and difficult.

If one was to consider Cafune purely on the basis of its narrative, it would be easy to dismiss it as a rather rote and serviceable stereotype. After all, there are a finite number of ways to play out a teen pregnancy, and the most believable tellings are also the most formulaic. It is not the story that impresses here but rather Kinemura’s telling of it. Cafune is sensitively told, gently characterised, and in terms of filmmaking technique very handsomely and delicately put together.

The film’s setting counts for a lot of its appeal: set in the coastal Mie prefecture in eastern Honshu, the small port locale allows both for peaceful long takes of ocean vistas – which Kinemura captures wonderfully and with admirable stillness – but also a stark and lonely vibe due to its comparatively quiet nature. This stripped-back and sparse environment removes distraction, and forces Mio’s life crisis into the foreground. There is simply nothing else in the film for her to think about. The reactions to her pregnancy from those around her varies of course, and allows for the exploration of each supporting character via their responses to the pregnancy – and how it will affect each of them in turn. This is not simply Nagisa or her mother, but close friend Natsumi (Isana Matsumoto) as well. A talented cast take care with this opportunity, and help to flesh the film out rather well.

There is something particularly enjoyable about watching a well-told story, related via attractive photography and an excellent group of performers. The slow pace and simply storyline make it a remarkably soft, relaxing sort of experience: a kind of  ‘slow cinema’ equivalent to the popular ‘slow food’ phenomenon. Based on this feature debut, we can only hope for more work from Kinemura in the future.

Cafune screened at the 2023 Osaka Asian Film Festival.

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