Barbican Film: ‘Instant Swamp’

Instant Swamp (2009), Satoshi Miki’s quirky comedy about the disillusionment of the contemporary Japanese lifestyle certainly doesn’t disappoint. As part of The Barbican’s ‘Girlsworld: Women in Contemporary Japanese Cinema’ series, Instant Swamp artistically and hilariously highlights the struggles of modern women in Japan, with a lead evoking an edgy, Japanese ‘Bridget Jones’.

This charming and personable movie follows the incredibly likable Haname (Kumiko Aso), the archetypal modern Japanese heroine, as she desperately searches for meaning and purpose in her career and personal life. Like an Asian Amelie (2001), the film opens ferociously with a fast montage of Haname’s likes, dislikes and childhood memories. After the enthusiastic beginning the film settles into its easy pace and revelations of Haname’s past and who she is are teasingly revealed amidst a backdrop of crazy adventures, bouts of ‘living room’ ballet and laugh out loud humour.

Working in the city as a journalist for a failing women’s magazine, Haname wakes up everyday full of optimism and retreats under the covers every night awash with disappointment with the mundane activities of day to day life.

As Haname thinks of ideas that will set her life on the course to happiness (some she achieves such as opening an antiques shop, and some she doesn’t like joining a cult) we watch her character develop through the quest of finding her biological father, who turns out to be an ageing hippie called Light Bulb (Morio Kazama), and meeting a kindred spirit; Gus (Ryo Kase) the punk rocker.

Instant Swamp is refreshingly random and colourful whilst retaining meaning and the ability to resonate with a global audience. As the charismatic Haname determines her friends by assessing their capability to see meaning and beauty in the formation of a rusty bent nail, the audience can easily identify with her quarter life crisis which she bears with passion, humour and zeal. The dominant contrast between Japanese tradition and modernity in Instant Swamp accentuates Haname’s identity as an individual character, not the Japanese female lead of old.

This life affirming character study celebrates the future of females in contemporary Japanese cinema and is well worth a look. 

Antonia Musgrave