Japan Cuts has reached its penultimate day, and although I’m terribly exhausted following a long week at work, I still intend to sample as many of its cinematic offerings as I can possibly manage. For my fourth screening at this year’s festival, I chose Jeux de plage, a slice-of-life comedy (albeit one with some admittedly dark undertones) that revolves around a trio of university students staying at an absurdly overcrowded beach house. As these mutual acquaintances hang out as a group for the first time, tensions naturally arise between them, testing the limits of their friendship.
It’s a serviceable enough premise; indeed, the predominantly episodic plot is punctuated by moments of deliciously subtle conflict wherein simmering resentments ooze out from beneath politely smiling facades. Unfortunately, the execution is somewhat sloppy—understandable, considering this is director Aimi Natsuto’s debut feature. With a few notable exceptions (the opening image of a disheveled man awakening in an empty swimming pool, for example, is an undeniably effective narrative hook), the visual style is rather flat and rough around the edges; additionally, the writing lacks focus, with several scenes petering out awkwardly—even the ending arrives abruptly, hitting the viewer like a speeding cement truck. The film’s saving grace is its colorful supporting cast, played by a sizable ensemble of talented international artists. My personal favorite was the Thai housekeeper/poet, whose wry narration regarding the melodrama unfolding around him earned a lot of big laughs; I also found it funny that the enigmatic Miwako, who is tangentially connected to every single character in the movie, never makes a physical appearance onscreen.
Ultimately, Jeux de plage is resoundingly decent. Natsuto’s voice shows great potential; she just needs to further refine her craftsmanship.