Thankfully, the next Jean-Luc Godard is not a fuckboy. He does not wear a fedora or a beige overcoat and he doesn't have an imprint of Madness and Civilisation on his skinny ass. He doesn't do heinous or unpleasant things with the justification of having an artistic temperament. He doesn't light a cigarette and just let the smoke drift through his fingertips up into the ozone layer and note a metaphor of how his intellect is lost on women.
All of this is impossible, because for one he is a she. A twenty year old Japanese woman who dropped out of film school after a year because it was too boring and made her first feature, a film that ignores almost all the technical requirements of cinema and yet somehow feels completely pure as a comedy, and wise as a portrait of a teenage girl's alienation. It is something like if you blended Harmony Korine's Trash Humpers with Elaine May's sense of humour, shake it around with compatriot Seijun Suzuki's refusal to throw you a bone and pour out a mixture that is still unrecognisable from all those ingredients. It is incredible to think that the main character, Amiko is the same age as Ladybird in Greta Gerwig's Oscar-contending film. She feels much younger, weirder and, well, less like Greta Gerwig. Amiko isn't precocious and Amiko is not a film about a seventeen year old made through a lens of nostalgia and warmth. It has all the painfulness of being right there in that awkward and terrible period.
Sometimes Yamanaka's camera is on a tripod, sometimes it's handheld. It tracks behind Amiko and Aomi, a classmate for whom she has an unhealthy and unrequited obsession, lighting them only with twinkling street lamps on a far hillside. It uses highly subjective closeups and distanced wide shots. It looks like it was shot on one of the cheaper DSLRs, and in some scenes this gives way to something worse than an iPhone. Nearly all of the actors who appear in the film are Yamanaka's friends, and in street scenes a lot of the extras are unaware that they are starring in a movie. Yamanaka shot about half of the film herself, and for the rest of it there are five or six other listed cinematographers. The first half is scripted, then Yamanaka and her tiny crew went to Tokyo and improvised the rest. This doesn't come as a surprise, as this section is even crazier than what preceded it; crazy, astonishing, inept, and close to perfect.
GERMAN MAN: What I liked about your film is that the characters were authentic. But I am authentic also. And apart from the characters I found it so boring. There was no action. And also it was short. Really really short. I think this is the difference between our European cinema and your "art". Yeah…
Gasps from the audience. Interpreter frowns.
HOST: Sorry what was the question?
GERMAN MAN: ... Well I am authentic, so I'll ask, why is your film... so boring?
Interpreter whispers as much of this as she can to Yamanaka. Yamanaka shows no emotion and nods along. Then she answers in Japanese and the interpreter smiles.
INTERPRETER: Well I think it's interesting.
The German guy makes his way to the exit.
The heartbroken Amiko follows Aomi to Tokyo where he lives with a popular girl in the year above, Mizuki, who "doesn't even like Radiohead". His reaction when Amiko breaks into his apartment one morning and surprises him takes anticlimax to new extremes. Amiko straddles him over the duvet as he wakes and mumbles, "Ohhh, ummm what?"
Amiko demands to know why Aomi could choose someone to be with someone so basic. "You bum," she calls him. He rubs his eyes and turns to her, "Sometimes I like cheesy songs too." Without giving it a second thought she punches him in the face. A close-up of her knuckles reveals the letters
In a Swiss village somewhere Godard draws a deep breath.
~ Theo Macdonald