Film Review – The Azemichi Road: Silent music ignites dance movements of an adolescent girl

Film Azemichi Road

The Azemichi Road: Hearing-impaired middle school student Yuki (Haruka Ooba) is grappling with her feeling of solitude, but discovering a popular group of hip hop dancers brings excitement to her life. (Courtesy of Charm, Inc.)

Cultural News 2010 May Issue

“The Azemichi Road” is the heartfelt tale of an adolescent girl living with the handicap of being hearing-impaired, who realizes the ability to communicate her feelings to others through dance. The film depicts the life of a hearing-impaired girl, giving viewers a true sense of what a world without sound is like.  But it also creates a sense of great empathy for the girl, and viewers easily feel the excitement of her hip hop dances. This film was shown at Japan Film Festival Los Angeles in April.

The Azemichi Road (85 min)

(2009, Japan)

Director: Fumi Nishikawa

Production: Charm Inc. in Tokyo

Production Assistance: Vostok Inc. in Tokyo

Location: Uonuma City and South Uonuma City in Niigata Prefecture

Japanese language with English subtitles

Because the main character Yuki suffers complete hearing loss, she is only able to dance by turning the speaker volume up to the max so that she actually feels the beat of the music echo through her body. When the normally shy and withdrawn Yuki feels this force of the music, the spark nestled within her heart bursts into life, and her powerful expression becomes a wave of energy that transmits to all those around her.

The stage for the film is the Uonuma region of Niigata prefecture in Northern Japan. Known for its longstanding connection with education for the hearing-impaired, this region was the birthplace of Nobuhachi Konishi, the man considered to be the father of modern education for the hearing impaired, as well as the location of the Nagaoka School for the Deaf once visited by Helen Keller.

This very same region is also one of Japan’s prominent rice farming lands, and the scenery of the snow-crested forests standing behind the rice paddies has long been an iconic image that reminds Japanese people of their hometowns.

This traditional and beautiful countryside, along with the radiance of the girls who pour their energy into a contrastingly urban dance, are depicted by emerging director Fumie Nishikawa, who graduated from London College of Communication, and has been recognized at various international film festivals.

The Japanese word “azemichi” refers to the path between two rice paddies. Any country town in Japan would be full of these droll, weed-ridden roads. But just maybe, jumping up and gazing from a different perspective at these roads would show the startling beauty around them.  This is the image that the film hopes to convey.

Synopsis

Hearing-impaired middle school student Yuki (Haruka Ooba) lives together with her mother Shimako (Makiko Watanabe). Shimako is often away from home for work, leaving Yuki at home grappling with her feelings of solitude, but discovering the popular dance team Rip Girls brings excitement to her life. Alone in her room, Yuki turns the DVD to full volume, feeling the sound as vibrations and tirelessly dancing along with the Rip Girls.

One day Yuki notices a practice session of the Jumping Girls, a local dance team of girls around her age. At first Yuki only gazes at the team’s dance from afar, but after being invited by the team captain Rena, she joins the team. Despite her disability, Yuki’s love for dance is second to none. One night, Rena happens upon Yuki practicing by herself. Rena silently matches her movements to Yuki and begins to dance, as Yuki follows. Despite being unable to share words, their feelings reach out to one-another.

However, hard times were soon to follow. As the day of a dance competition with the Rip Girls presiding as judges draws near, Rena injures her leg. The team members are disappointed in her carelessness, and team relations are strained as the members quarrel over who should cover Rena’s part. Yuki’s dancing continues to improve, but the other team members react hostilely and begin to bully her.

One day, Yuki’s teammates steal her diary. Yuki frantically tries to take it back, but the other girls belittle her as they each read the contents of her diary. Yet when they read what she has written, they are completely taken aback. There they find the same devotion to dance that they all share, and words of gratitude towards them, her teammates.

This event draws the team together as one. Then, on the day of the dance competition, Rena appears at the dance hall to reveal a startling secret… Will the team be able to show their true skill before the eyes of their idols, the Rip Girls? And what is it that Yuki finally “hears”?

Casts

Haruka Ooba, the 15-year old actress who made her debut in “Reincarnation” (directed by Takashi Motoki) plays Yuki, challenging the complex role of a hearing-impaired dancer in hear first lead role.

Playing Yuki’s mother is Makiko Watanabe, whose evoking performances in “M/OTHER” (Dir. Nobuhiro Suwa), “Binkyo Forest” (Dir. Naomi Kawase), and “Premonition of Love” (Dir. Masahiro Kobayashi) earned her numerous awards at the Cannes and Locarno International Film Festivals, among others.

The music that gives the girls the enthusiasm to dance is written by D・A・I (Dai Nagao), former Do As Infinity leader and Ayumi Hamasaki songwriter, in a collaboration with violinist Aria Aizawa as duo unit Aria Asia.

As Sign Language Director, Hiroe Oohashi takes important role in behind-the-scene. Born hearing-impaired, she learned lipreading and sign language through constant training by her mother. In 1999, she was chosen through audition for the Haiyuza Theater Company-produced “Children of a Tiny God” and gained praise for her performance, earning her the Seventh Yomiuri Film Award for best actress.

Thereafter she studied abroad in America, and while studying dance and acting formed the sign language song and dance unit Soul Rainbow. She earned praise for her work in the American hearing-impaired dance troupe Wild Zappers, and as the role of Maria in the musical “West Side Story.” She continues to actively work as an actress and sign vocal dancer.

Director Fumie Nishikawa, as with her previous works “Back Then…Summer Memories” and “Soeur,” continues in her attempt to convey the tenderness of the young heart. For this film she also lends her skills to drafting and editing.

Born in 1978, Fumie Nishikawa graduated from then London College of Printing,  currently London College of Communication, in 2002. Her self-written, produced, and filmed graduation work “While you sleep” premiered at the 59th Venice Film Festival.

2006 marked her directorial debut in theaters with “Back then… Summer Memories” (Main role: Erika Yamakawa) She followed this with her second directorial work, “Soeur” (Main roles: Mai Houshou, Minoru Tanaka, Yuko Ogura)

“Azemichi Road” already won the second prize at the Chicago International Children’s Film Festival. The film also was shown at BAM Kids Film Festival in New York, International Women’s Film Festival in Seoul, and KidsFfest in Indonesia.

Tags: ,

Comments are closed.