Vault Shorts #10 (Digger, Nanachan, The Snow King)

The tenth entry in the column deals with Japanese shorts

Digger (2017) By Kengo Yagawa (15.3 Minutes)


There is a fierce competition going on every night in the woods, a secret ritualistic meeting of disenfranchised businessmen. Each armed with a shovel, their challenge is to dig for as long as they can. The nightly competition attracts a nameless and silent protagonist, an office worker who spends his days fantasizing about the act of digging. He must face some fierce competition in order to make it to the top and beat the man who silently watches over the event.

"Digger" is an example that in the world of the absurd, anything can become a competition. This short film, which features no dialogue and a lot of digging is more fun in execution than concept. The late night rituals the men perform in the short makes it feel as if this is just an event that has been and always will be, steeped in a deep tradition with synchronized dances and an unspoken language that you have to dig to prove your worth. Although it is hard to imagine this drawn out into a feature length, as a short film it is very successful at creating this odd, funny yet endearing culture of a bunch of businessmen digging holes in the middle of the forest while being cheered on by their peers. "Digger" is a comedic gem with an ideal runtime that is bound to entertain audiences.

Nanachan (2018) By Tatsuya Nishimoto (20.2 Minutes)


Two outcasts who enjoy spending their time talking about sex and making crude jokes, find themselves interested in a fellow graduating student in "Nana-chan". When one of the boys decides to make a move on her before they part ways after graduating, he professes his love by offering to fulfill a disgusting act. 

"Nanachan" offers up some good comedic moments with oddly scripted character interactions and an entertaining yet disturbing conclusion. The comedic element seems to come more from the absurdity of the characters' actions and dialogue, but the interactions don't seem realistic, making "Nanachan" feel more like an absurd comedy, and within that definition, it falls short of being consistently entertaining. 

For the majority of the film, the interactions just feel awkward and not in the way that you can derive humor from; stilted, forced and unrealistic. I normally don't comment on the quality of subtitles, but to ensure to not sell the content short, the subtitles on the short provided had many errors, noticeable through grammar and word choice, and a lot of the humor may have been lost in translation. The act of trying to figure out what was actually being said, obviously added to any frustrations I already had with the film.

The Snow King (1993) By Shunji Iwai (22.3 Minutes)


Once living with aspirations of becoming a famous idol, a woman named Yasuko finds herself in debt. In order to keep living the life, she has become accustomed to, Yasuko begins to take out large loans which only further add to her financial worries. She hides her debt from her partner whom she is trying to build a life with. After a pregnancy scare though, she is forced to face her boyfriend and her debt to try to live a reasonable life.

Aired on TV as part of a series, the quality is what you would expect for a made for TV short film. The structure of the film is also reminiscent of a TV program, first showcasing itself as a documentary on the struggles modern day adults face when it comes to financial problems in an unstable economy. The film evolves pretty quickly into more of a character piece and we learn about Yasuko's past, and how her ambitions have become stagnant and she finds herself struggling to get by while being slowly overwhelmed by increasing debt. Her story does not just act as a cautionary tale but builds a very sympathetic and relatable tale. Shunji Iwai has would go on to critical success with films such as "Bride for Rip Van Winkle" and "All About Lily Chou-Chou" and coming across his earlier work will deepen the appreciation for his latest efforts. Being restricted by budget and time, it is not his most memorable work, but it has a certain charm which is very engaging.

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Asian Film Vault: Vault Shorts #10 (Digger, Nanachan, The Snow King)
Vault Shorts #10 (Digger, Nanachan, The Snow King)
The tenth entry in the column deals with Japanese shorts
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