Typhoon Club

Year: 1985
 Shinji Somai
Rating: 7.5

A few years after his popular film Sailor Suit and Machine Gun about a female high school student who inherits a Yakuza gang from her father and famously picks up a machine gun and sprays it around, director Sômai Shinji returns with another film about young students but with a much more serious intent. The film won many awards and is highly regarded in Japan appearing in the Kinema Jumpo’s 100 Greatest Japanese Films. If I were to make such a list, I have my doubts that this would get on it - I suspect that many of themes that run through the film are more understood by the Japanese - that it speaks more distinctly to their culture than to a universal one.

Most of it takes place in a Junior High School outside of Tokyo where life seems stifled - still born - and it follows a group of students both male and female who one assumes have known each other all their lives. They are friends simply through the repetition of knowing one another, but in a sense they don't really understand each other at all. The bonds of friendship seem elastic and easily let go. Beneath the surface all of them are bubbling up with issues that they are too young to understand, yet they know something is wrong. It is a world in which parents are absent - uncaring perhaps though it is hard to say. Not just parents but authority just isn't there.

The one teacher we meet in the film is a loss, unable to control the classroom when it breaks into a rumble and unable to keep his mixed up personal life out of the classroom. When one of the male students nearly drowns due to a prank the girls play on him, no one considers calling for help. At another time a girl has acid poured down her back and no punishment is meted out to the boy - it is quickly forgotten and he is still accepted into the group. Later he attempts to rape the girl in the school - chasing her up and down hallways before finally cornering her in a classroom where he rips off the back of her blouse - sees the scar caused by the acid and collapses. She tells no one but even more concerning is that none of her friends ask her what happened - why is your blouse ripped.

We get brief fragments of their lives and trying to paste it together to make sense of it is a challenge - trying to find the distinct personalities is complicated as the camera rapidly moves around their lives for a few moments before departing to another. Which are the girls who are having a lesbian affair, which girl masturbated in her mother's bed, which of the guys is it who seems to have a case of OCD as he can't go into his house and keeps saying different versions of I am home without being able to enter. It takes a while to piece it together. Then the typhoon comes and they are stuck at school. Again the authorities vanish and the parents seemingly make no effort to contact them or come get them. Throughout there was a sense of malaise, of disquiet but the typhoon seems to break down inhibitions as the rape attempt occurs and then they all dance in their underwear in the rain. The final act is a shocking one - totally unexpected and terribly nihilistic and incomprehensible.

Though all these acts that I mention - rape, lesbian sex and masturbation might make one think this is an exploitation film - it is far from it. It is all observed from a distance - Somai keeps his camera very neutral - never gets intimate with the characters or the acts - a disinterested witness. The camera movement in the film is lovely - it always seems to be in the right spot and tracks some of the action effortlessly. I am still thinking about this film - trying to soak it in - I am not sure whether I liked watching this or not - it made me uncomfortable - probably more so because they are so very young - but leaving me uncertain is probably a good sign.