Movie Review, Shunji Iwai

Picnic (1996) by Shunji Iwai

Original Name: Pikunikku

Director:  Shunji Iwai

Runtime: 68 minutes

Language: Japanese

IMDB Link:

Only 68 minutes in length, Picnic remains as one of Shunji Iwai’s strangest title. It’s the more amazing when it was made the same time with universal appealed Love Letter (Picnic was shot in 1994 but it took 2 years to release). As Picnic is for me his rawest, most difficult and least accessible title to date (maybe even to his whole career). By that I don’t mean Picnic as his worst (if it is, then the man has had a solid career), it’s just that it has some off-putting moments with a nonsensical, whimsical plot and some outright bizarre sequences, but at heart it’s still every inch a Shunji Iwai’s output. Picnic takes place in an asylum where Coco (singer Chara) make friends with other boys Tsumiji (Tadanobu Asano, who played Ichi the Killer) and Satoru. The setting, the characters and the story might remind you of Park Chan Wook’s later work I’m a Cyborg, But That’s Okay; to the point I wouldn’t be surprised if the Korean master was inspired by this film.

Although Picnic is about three mentality disadvantaged teenagers who want to break free of the restriction of the institution, the film doesn’t seem to make any grand statement, or serve as a character study and such. Instead, Picnic’s quality lies in how the film tells its rather sad, depressing story with carefree and upbeat tone, to the point where at times, we as the audience don’t know what we suppose to react. This quality is further elevated by the uplifting score composed by Remedios and the constant shots of these three walking on top of the wall. These scenes play simultaneously with other outrageous and even uncomfortable sequences, like how Tsumiji’s teacher appeared as a distorted puppet figure, or how they were abused by the doctors for escaping. These sequences, again, play out in an absurd fashion that sometimes it’s hard to pin down what we suppose to feel.

As with his other features, one aspect remains the same: the characters, though insane, are still grounded as they’re tormenting from what they did in the past, yet at the same time never care if they have to die. You could apply the symbol image of them walking on the top the wall (refusing to walk on the main way) as how they’re literally walking the line between sane and madness, that it’s also the line that split between their protected world with the dangerous outside world. In one sequence, one of the cast falls off the wall and he’s struggling and literally dies. It can also be interpreted as the line between hell and heaven. It’s not far-fetched at all since Picnic touches on church, religion, bible and such. It might not be anything in significant. It might just be a simple story of three insane kids escaping the institution to see the end of the world (hence “Picnic”). Whatever the case, it remains Shunji Iwai’s boldest film. It might divide the audience with its bizarre elements but it might be the film that Iwai himself has the most to say.

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