• Film

New Asian Cinema: Company Retreat (Japan)

Black and white films are a staple of world cinema. From achievements in the early silent era such as Metropolis (1927) and M (1931) to masterpieces like The 400 Blows (1959), Tokyo Story (1953) and Wings of Desire (1987), this format never actually died after color films were invented. In recent years, a plethora of award-winning filmmakers from all around the world chose to shoot their films in black and white, among which, Alfonso Cuarón’s Roma (2018), Paweł Pawlikowski’s Ida (2013) and Alexander Payne’s Nebraska (2013) are the most universally acclaimed.

In recent years in Asia, an interest in shooting films in black and white has grown rapidly, either to serve a historic subject or as an artistic choice. Jiang Wen’s Devils on the Doorsteps (2000), Huang Hsin-yao’s The Great Buddha (2017), Ronny Sen’s Cat Sticks (2019) and Ahmad Bahrami’s The Wasteland (2020) are among the best-received in the international film festival circuit. It is worth mentioning that most of the recent Asian black and white films were made in Japan, the land that nurtured two of the greatest directors – Akira Kurosawa and Yasujirō Ozu – who shot most of their films in black and white.

Atsushi Funahashi, a very versatile Japanese director known for his documentary Nuclear Nation that was screened at the 62nd Berlin International Film Festival, chose black and white for his latest feature film, Company Retreat in 2020. It premiered at last year’s Tokyo International Film Festival. This film is based on true events: a scandal revolving around 82,000 cases of sexual harassment in Japan.

The story takes place in 2018, when a hotel chain’s employees go on a company retreat by the ocean. The goal of this trip is to give the group an opportunity to spend time in a less structured atmosphere. However, before this retreat, Saki (Saki Hirai), a receptionist at the company, has reported a rather disturbing sexual harassment case to the upper management. Instead of getting legal help, Saki’s complaint has been brushed off by her superior and she continues to get harassed physically, verbally and even on social media.  Not being able to enjoy the company retreat, Saki’s anxiety and fear puts a gloomy cloud over everybody’s head. Photos of Saki have circulated on the web and her coworkers are more interested in the rumors than seeking the truth. A female colleague even suggests that Saki should keep it quiet and try to move up the ranks using her “special relationship” with the perpetrator. Most of the film takes place in a confined space of the retreat building as the tension slowly reaches to a boiling point.

Besides writing and directing, Atsushi Funahashi also took on the roles of cinematographer and editor of this film. He approaches his subjects with a documentary style that provides a high level of realism visually and emotionally. Black-and-white elements reveal a male-dominated, toxic and conservative Japanese society, while segmented scenes with colors intentionally give the film moments to breathe. This docu-fiction has more than a dozen cast members who share the same first name as their characters. Funahashi strived to present their dynamics in the most realistic way possible by creating a fly-on-the-wall style. Most of the film’s dialogues happen in a single room where Funahashi choses to zoom in on characters’ extreme close-ups to emphasize the tension.