Kenji Uchida - Afutâ sukûru AKA After School (2008)

Given a bigger budget and more well-known actors, Uchida has crafted a more ambitious story that carries a bit of the non-linear structure he was so keen on playing with in his debut feature. The first half of the unfolds in a fairly traditional structure. One day, salaryman Kimura (Masato Sakai) goes missing after running off with a mysterious woman. As a candid cell phone snap makes it way to the top of the corporate ladder, private detective Shimazaki (Kuranosuke Sasaki) is sent to find Kimura by the bosses for reasons unknown. Eventually, Shimazaki finds Jinno (Yo Oizumi), Kimura's friend since childhood who's now teaching at their old junior high. Curious why Kimura was absent even when his wife was giving birth, Jinno begrudgingly helps out with the investigation.

However, this being a Kenji Uchida film, no one is ever what they seem, and every scene actually holds a clue to the deconstruction of the mystery. As the film progresses, Uchida gradually pulls away the curtain and reveals his scheme in an ingenious manner. Unlike the tiresome reveals of people surprisingly double-crossing everyone else halfway, the paths have already been laid out, and Uchida simply reveals the answers for us. Of course, this can be perceived as a weakness to Uchida as a writer because the audiences are essentially just witness to a show that dupes the characters who don't know about the complicated scheme.

But Uchida has put on a hell of a show, carefully laying out the nuances and the foreshadowing in the first half before the major second half reveal. Unlike A Stranger of Mine, in which the reveals don't amount to much of an ending, Uchida actually allows the twists to raise the stakes of the story, with all the reveals actually mattering in moving the plot along to a final showdown. And while some critics have accused Uchida of using his characters only as pieces on a chess board, he actually puts away his penchant for flaunting his intelligence by giving the final major twist of the film to his characters. The reveal, consisting of Uchida simply showing the rest of the opening scene, may just be another example of clever audience manipulation, but it also proves to be a surprising moment of poignancy.


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