SLAMDANCE 2020 FILM FESTIVAL REVIEW! Shell and Joint is a mind-bending philosophical drama from the mind of Japanese writer and director Isamu Hirabayashi. Through various one-on-one conversations and assignations, we are privy to the inner thoughts, theories, and feelings of everyone in or around this Japanese capsule hotel. The ways men and women perceive each other, relationships, life, death, and existential dread are all explored.
The score is skillfully composed, immersive, and atmospheric. Given that it is a Japanese film with subtitles, I expected to have more difficulty reading the mood of the scene, a common issue with me regarding foreign cinema. Yet this movie puppeteered my emotions like a marionette by way of its ominous tone and beautiful settings.
The entire movie is reminiscent of the first half of a Twilight Zone episode. This is both to its credit and detriment. It succeeds in setting the desired creepy and foreboding atmosphere. But it also leaves you hanging in suspense of a twist that isn’t there, which can be frustrating to some viewers.
“…one-on-one conversations…of everyone in or around this Japanese capsule hotel.”
Shell and Joint is Isamu Hirabayashi’s first feature film, though he has made a few short films up to this point, and I have to say it shows. The movie is a lot more freeform than conventional stories, possessing only a nominally connected narrative. Essentially it feels like an interwoven assortment of various semi-related short films than it does one cohesive movie.
Visually every scene is a feast for the eyes as the cinematography is both masterful and refreshing. Nearly every scene is a wide shot that engulfs the subjects in the center of this unique setting. This makes the end result vaguely reminiscent of a series of canvas gifted with motion. It comes across as a shuttering compendium of art. Though it is visually thought-provoking, it also comes off as overly esoteric most of the time.
Shell and Joint is not for the faint of heart, short of attention, or shallow of thought. However, if you can scale the one-inch barrier of subtitles and are looking for a film to ignite the scientist or philosopher within then, this film is worth the watch. But be warned, the viewing of the end credits requires a strong, or at least an empty, stomach.
Shell and Joint screened at the 2020 Slamdance Film Festival.