Home » Film Festivals » ‘Tenzo’ Review: Dir. Katsuya Tomita (2019) [Cannes]

‘Tenzo’ Review: Dir. Katsuya Tomita (2019) [Cannes]

by Paul Heath

Critics’ Week

Katsuya Tomita (Bangkok Nites, Saudade) brings his latest to Critics’ Week; an intriguing and powerful study, one of just three Japanese films to play at across all of the strands at Cannes in 2019.

A tight, 59-minute piece, narrative constructed into sections titled by food sensations – ‘salty’, ‘spicy hot’, ‘subtle’, for example. The impressive drama focuses on two Buddhist monks, Chiken and Ryugyo in a post-tsunami, post-Fukushima Japan. We learn that the two trained together at the Soto Buddhist school some ten years previous, and now Chiken is installed in a temple in Yamanashi offering cooking classes – he has learned that food can be used to heal health matters, including within his own family – his son Hiro suffers from many food allergies. He also conducts daily ceremonies and operates a suicide hotline. Ryugyo, meanwhile, has taken a different path – he works primarily as a construction worker, helping to physically rebuild following the destruction of both the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear disaster in 2011, and the equally devastating tsunami in Tohoku in the same year, an event that Ryugyo and his family still haunted by.

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Chiken has his own conflicts too – balance is shifting the between his daily obligations and personal life, something heightened when he can’t find time to visit son Hiro during hospital visiting hours after he is rushed to hospital following an allergic reaction to food he has ingested.

Tomita, a wonderful filmmaker who mostly funds his films by working as a tuck driver during the day, is renowned for casting family friends and non-actors in his films, and the same is such here. Chicken Kawaguchi and Ryugo Karashima are the two leads, both of whom hugely impress. The screenplay by Tomita and Toranosuke Aizawa is well paced and executed superbly. Each frame is beautiful, the cinematography from Studio Ishi (Takuma Furuya, Masahiro Muoyami) a breathtaking feast of visuals that immerse you into the narrative throughout. There is wonderful use of time-lapse later on, again extenuating the story, a solid ending, and one powerful unexpected camera movie which almost takes you out of the film when Chiken as he returns to his temple.

At only 59-minutes, it’s certainly not the longest film we’ve seen in Cannes this year, but it’s certainly up there as one of the most impressive. Totally immersive, pure, naturalistic filmmaking at its best, well deserved of its slot at the festival, and definitely one to seek out.

Tenzo was reviewed at the 2019 Cannes Film Festival in the Critics’ Week strand.

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