Review: Jesus

There’s something refreshingly irreverent about Hiroshi Okuyama’s debut feature, but it’s not in the Japanese title, which translates directly as “I hate Jesus.” Appropriately small-scale in both production values and ideas, the movie posits Christianity as an object of curiosity. People of faith will find it quaint at best, while the rest of us may think it’s grandly pulling a leg or two, though in spots it reveals a disarming seriousness. If, in the end, it doesn’t say much about organized religion, it does say something interesting about the cult of Christ.

Our hero is nine-year-old Yura (Yura Sato), who moves from Tokyo to the mountains of Gunma Prefecture to live with his grandmother. The reason for the move isn’t elucidated, though it seems to have something to do with Yura’s character. In any event, he’s enrolled in a local Catholic school, which is odd in that neither Yura nor his parents seem particularly religious. 

Yura’s problems adjusting are hardly unusual, especially since he’s an odd duck to begin with—slow on the uptake, but somewhat sly in his measure of people. He’s bullied as a newcomer but seems to take in stride. Since prayer is offered to him as a means of getting what you want (isn’t that sort of what it is?), he asks for a friend, and eventually gets one in the form of Kazuma (Riki Okuma), with whom he shares a nascent liking for soccer. Obviously, this prayer thing has its benefits, and next he prays for money and gets it in the form of a gift from his grandmother.

These rewards are preceded by visions of the Lord, a diminutive white guy (Chad Mullane) dressed in the hackneyed robes and carrying on like a silent Jimny Cricket. The comical quality of this element plays up the superstitious side of Catholicism, which makes it more amenable to Japanese spiritualism, though Okuyama doesn’t go very far with the idea. When tragedy strikes, Yura wonders, like any good papist, why his God has forsaken him, or, at least, why He’s such a jerk. Yura, in a sense, grows up as a result, though the viewer has to wonder about the long-lasting damage to his psyche.

Jesus is slight by any aesthetic measure, and if it shows any promise it’s in Okuyama’s realization of his limitations. Even the humor is low-key, which at times undercuts the irreverence, but in a sense irreverence, like beauty and faith, is in the eye of the beholder.

In Japanese. Now playing in Tokyo at Toho Cinemas Hibiya (050-6868-5068).

Jesus home page in Japanese.

photo (c) 2019 Kaikai Senden

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