Having quickly grown into one of the country’s most anticipated film festivals, the East Asia Film Festival Ireland (EAFFI) is back for its fourth edition from July 30 until August 4. This time, however, the event is returning with a twist – following the lead of the recent Galway Film Fleadh by being entirely online, with audiences able to rent its films to watch from the comfort of their home. This was following its postponement last March due to Covid-19.
Despite the change, EAFFI looks stronger than ever. In previous years, the festival screened such acclaimed gems as Claire’s Camera, Long Day’s Journey into Night and Manta Ray. This edition is no different, kicking off with A Girl Missing – Japanese writer-director Koji Fukada’s follow-up to his 2016 universally loved drama Harmonium.
Fukada’s latest stars his regular collaborator Mariko Tsutsui as Ichiko, a kind caregiver who has grown close to the family she works for – tutoring teenager Motoko (Mikako Ichikawa, The Third Murder) and her younger sister Saki (Miyu Ogawa). However, when Saki goes missing and the person responsible is revealed to be Ichiko’s nephew, it throws her life into disarray.
The film flashes backwards and forwards in time. It juxtaposes the central disappearance and its immediate aftermath with the present-day story of an older and colder Ichiko as she tries to exact a plan of revenge – one that only becomes clear over the course of the narrative.
A Girl Missing breaths new life into the mystery and revenge sub-genres by framing them through a new lens – centring on someone who is not a detective but a normal person only tangentially connected to the central crime (It’s Japanese title ‘Side Profile’ might be more apt). It is fascinating to watch how Ichiko’s life unravels and how she – despite her innocence – winds up suffering on account of her relative’s actions.
A Girl Missing’s tricky narrative structure is also ingenious, adding fuel to the slow-burn drama-thriller. Meanwhile, Fukada’s screenplay is always two steps ahead of the viewer, while his icy still camera work finds great menace in the mundane – leaving the viewer feeling as if they are intruding on the personal space of his characters. Adding to the thick atmosphere is Tsutsui and Ichikawa, the latter playing someone whose love for her tutor feels more like lust, with their dark and multi-layered turns.
A blend of thriller and character drama, fans of other East Asian classics like Burning or Secret Sunshine should adore this.