By Emily Liu
In Japan, the raucous sound of the cicada is synonymous with summer, when leaves take on the dusty green of full maturity and insects molt into adults, leaving empty shells behind.
Cicada, directed by Dean Yamada and written by Yu Shibuya, captures that feeling of summer, when we shed another layer of our former selves and take on a more mature form. Our transition is led by Jumpei Taneda (Yugo Saso), who discovers that he is infertile during a pre-marital medical checkup and must figure out a way to tell the woman he wants to marry. Paralleled with Jumpei’s struggles are those of his sister Nanaka (Hiroko Wada), who desperately wants to protect her son Ryota (Houten Saito) from the bully in school. However, only Jumpei has the uncanny ability to find what Ryota really wants: cicada shells.
Cicada uses the discarded insect exoskeleton to propose a metamorphosis for the adult who has forgotten he was also once a child. From the beginning, children are central to the film – their stories, their struggles, their very existence motivate the adult characters. Essentially silent or absent from the film, the children are subject to the faulty interpretation of adults. As the adults scheme to throw an unrequested birthday party for Ryota in an attempt to gain the acceptance of his classmates, they discover their own potential for growth beyond childhood.
The narrative, simultaneously lighthearted and deeply emotional, is certainly entertaining (and award-winning), but the film is also compelling visually. Shot entirely on location in Tokyo, the casual images of everyday Japanese urban life are contrasted with the traditional illustrations of the eccentric Gankane-san (Masayuki Yui), a modern-day kamishibai artist bent on sequel-izing classic children’s tales (like the legend of Momotaro) for an adult audience. While the film will certainly appeal to a viewer who has spent time in Japan, the emotional themes are universal. What remains long after the credits have rolled is the dizzying imagery of Jumpei’s growing moments of clairvoyance, expressed in flashes of summer: green leafy trees, blues skies, cicada shells.
Cicada premieres at CAAMFEST on March 13