Strangers on the periphery - Taipei Times
Sat, May 05, 2018 - Page 13 News List

Strangers on the periphery

Japanese director Daihachi Yoshida questions our human capacity for tolerance and acceptance towards outsiders in his latest film ‘The Scythian Lamb’

By Paige Lim  /  Contributing reporter in Udine, Italy

Japanese director Daihachi Yoshida at the recent Far East Film Festival in Udine, Italy, where The Scythian Lamb, currently in theaters in Taiwan, made its European premiere.

Photo courtesy of Ricky Modena

High school outcasts, a housewife-turned-embezzler, dysfunctional siblings. The oddball films of Japanese director Daihachi Yoshida have always centered on individuals living on the fringe, and his latest feature The Scythian Lamb (羊之木), is no exception.

Currently showing in theaters, Yoshida’s black comedy casts the spotlight on yet another group of outsiders, this time in the more extreme sense of the word: six convicted murderers. They are the guinea pigs of a new government resettlement project to fight rural depopulation: place low-risk prisoners in the coastal town of Uobuka for 10 years, and if they can stay out of trouble, they will be permanently freed.

City official Tsukisue (played by Japanese pop idol Ryo Nishikido) is in charge of ensuring the new residents settle in: there is barber Fukumoto, former Yakuza member Ono, sexy Ota, reclusive Kurimoto, photographer-cum-fishing boat operator Sugiyama and the courteous Miyakoshi. But the greater concern lies in the possibility of these murderers reverting to their old ways. A body soon washes up on Uobuka’s pier, throwing the peaceful community into disarray.

If The Scythian Lamb’s dystopian-like premise sounds like an episode of Black Mirror, you’re not alone — some critics have compared the film, which was adapted from a manga, to the hit Netflix television show. The British anthology series looks at the dark side of humanity’s innovations in an alternate present, such as how future governments may implement mass schemes for the greater good, at the expense of human existence.

“The manga explores a kind of experimentation in society that hasn’t been done before, which means it’s science fiction, so it contains similar aspects that you see in Black Mirror. And when I read the comic for the first time, I also considered the possibility of turning the book into a sci-fi movie,” Yoshida tells the Taipei Times, adding that he was impressed by the storyline on his first read.

The Scythian Lamb is based on the manga Hitsuji no Ki (The Sheep Tree) by Tatsuhiko Yamagami and Mikio Igarashi.

“I initially didn’t think I could film this manga, because the story is quite chaotic,” he says. “But at the same time, I was interested in how the comic not only touches on social problems in society, but also includes thriller elements.”

Whether such a novel prisoner resettlement scheme could prove effective in real life, however, is not the intention of the film, says the director. Unlike most Japanese movies, where good versus evil falls into absolute binaries and the world is seen in black and white, The Scythian Lamb posits the idea of a gray morality among its marginalized protagonists, in the process questioning our innate human capacity for tolerance and acceptance.

“Who is good, and who is bad — these are human roles that have been decided by us,” Yoshida says. “There are many in this world who are naturally not good people, yet they are still trying their best. And we’re going to have to co-exist with these people, even if we don’t know or understand them. Which leads to the big theme in my film: how generous can you be towards these strangers?”

For Yoshida, it’s a timely train of thought that hits close to home. Xenophobia is still prevalent in Japan, and strict refugee policies have kept the nation’s intake of asylum seekers consistently low amid the ongoing global migrant crisis.

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