Hiroshi Okuyama shows flair in his debut feature with a mini deity…
Debuting in the New Directors competition at the 2019 San Sebastian Film Festival, subsequently winning the New Directors award and a €50,000 prize, Hiroshi Okuyama’s odd comedy Jesus is an impressive inaugural feature.
Snapped up by Nikkatsu for distribution, and being the youngest ever recipient of the prize at the festival, this brief flirt with Christian themes is somewhat tonally gentle and doesn’t quite feature enough meat to pad it’s short (for a feature anyway) runtime out. The film follows 9-year-old only child Yura (Yura Sato) as his family move from Tokyo to Nakanojo, moving in with his grandma Fumi (Akko Tadano) after the death of his grandfather, and joining the local school which just so happens to practice Christianity.
Struggling to initially make friends, as Yura is rather shy and reserved, he also struggles to adapt to the religious devotion that his classmates show towards an unfamiliar religion. Polite teacher Mr Warita (Ippei Osako) tries to take him under his wing, and share the ‘joy’ of religion, however, none of this really has an effect on Yura until Jesus Christ himself appears as a doll-sized imaginary hyper friend. It’s easy to forgive Yura’s slow acceptance of this new friend, however, he keeps him lonely and they play together whilst Yura’s family adapt to living in a house and town where their grandfather died. In some ways, the arrival of Jesus is almost like a genie, as wishes to the mini deity for friends and money both come true, but in Old Testament-style they’re also viciously removed with consequences once Yura begins to take them for granted.
The narrative itself doesn’t lend much to be remembered, and the comedic elements are few and frequent, as the focus instead is more on Yura’s conformity to the concept of Christianity and his place in the new school. The few scenes that do feature Christ popping up in unexpected ways are some great elements of visual humour, however, a scant handful of laughs through a short 76-minute runtime aren’t forgivable enough to improve the film. The colour palette is largely drab, and the camera is relatively immobile, all of this combined with a lacking narrative that feels closer to a short and a slow unengaging tone makes Jesus hard to love.