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[NYAFF '21] 'A Balance' review: Scathing look at Japan's culture of shaming

Movie Reviews

[NYAFF ’21] ‘A Balance’ review: Scathing look at Japan’s culture of shaming

A powerful look at press and public opinion.

A Balance looks at one of the most important issues of today’s world. The movie is about a documentarian named Yuko. The filmmaker’s latest project investigates the suicides of a teacher and a female student after allegations of an affair. Yuko wants to avoid the more sensational aspects of the story and focus on a fair story. Soon, Yuko is involved in a scandal in her personal life. 

Films often make the mistake of taking on too much. They may start with the best of intentions, but all the messages end up becoming watered down. A Balance tackles a number of different subjects successfully, for the most part. Director Yujiro Harumoto begins by looking at Japan. While there are many jokes and memes about how outrageous Japan is, a conservative manner and tradition are much more accurate. 

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The double suicide points a finger at the culture of the country. The teacher and student are judged for taking their lives and the alleged reasons they did so. There is almost an eagerness in letting people know about their faults. A Balance also shows the fallout of the incident. The effects on the family go beyond what many would expect. They receive no pity from others and instead are shamed. It is a sad and powerful indictment of the country.

a balance

Naturally, A Balance looks at the media’s part in everything. From the story Yuko’s producers want to run to comments by members of the disgraced families, the press is positioned as the villain. This has been a common tactic in cinema for decades, but it is especially poignant here. This goes beyond people stating how they will never trust the news again; lives are ruined. 

At its core, the film is a character study. The movie is addressing a number of different issues, but it is Yuko’s story that is truly the focus of A Balance. (Literally translated, the title of the film is Yuko’s Balance.) Her investigation leads to a discovery that her her to questioning  her own beliefs. The reveal is a little predictable, but it does add drama to the movie.

For all the good A Balance does, it is hard not to feel the movie would have been better if the story were a little more focused. The film runs a little long, and by the end, it feels like it may have run out of steam. The melodramatic ending is not in tune with the preceding two hours. It does not ruin the film, but it does prevent it from being something truly special.

The New York Asian Film Festival takes place from August 6 – August 22. Screenings are live and online.

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