SMALL, SLOW BUT STEADY (Keiko, me wo sumasete)

(director/writer: Shô Miyake; screenwriters: Masaaki Sakai/based on the book “Makenaide!” by Keiko Ogasawara; cinematographer: Yûta Tsukinaga; editor: Keiko Okawa; cast: Yukino Kishi(Keiko Ogawa), Tomokazu Miura (Katsumi Sasaki), Masaki Miura (Makoto Hayashi),  Matsuura Shinichirô (Shintaro Matsumoto), Satô Himi (Seiji Ogawa), Nakajima Hiroko (Kiyomi Ogawa), Sendo Nobuko (Chiharu Sasaki); Runtime: 99; MPAA Rating: NR; producers; Koichiro Fukushima, Masahiro Handa, Keisuke Konishi, Shunsuke Koga: A Nagoya Broadcasting Network production; 2022-Japan/France-in Japanese, with English subtitles)

A different kind of sports film.

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

A different kind of sports film from Japanese director Shô Miyake (“Wild Tour”/”And Your Bird Can Sing”) that is co-written with Masaaki Sakai. The film has no musical score, as it wants us to feel as much as possible what it’s like for a deaf person. It’s based on the autobiographical book “Makenaide!” ( Don’t lose/Don’t give up) by Keiko Ogasawara. It’s a sensitive portrait of a female Japanese flyweight professional boxer. It’s not about winning any fights, but about the will to live in the depressing Covid lockdown period in Japan.

It follows the born deaf recently turned boxer, the real-life young female boxer Keiko Ogawa (Yukino Kishii) as she turns pro and is the only woman who trains in a once prestigious small Tokyo gym that has turned seedy and is facing closure because the owner of the site (Miura Tomokazu) is in poor health. It’s the only gym in Tokyo that accepts her despite her disability.

Her coach (Tomokazu Miura) lets on that she’s a winner because she’s a hard worker but points out it’s tough on her because she can’t hear the bell or the referee.

Keiko remains opaque. We learn precious little about her except such things as that she lives with her lovable but slacker brother (Satô Himi), went into boxing because she was bullied as a child, is a cleaning lady in a swank hotel and is fully into being a technically sound boxer. Her object is surviving with dignity while living a quiet and restrained life.

Keiko speaks in signs, which are translated with subtitles.

The film brilliantly captures the waning past of Tokyo as the pandemic closes the city down, and makes things much harder now for the struggling worker to exist. Her two trainers must work a second job to survive, and her coach is battling with failing eyesight.  What’s important for her is the solid support she receives from her boxing team. For Keiko it’s how she does it that’s more important than the fame and glory the sport offers (sort of like the journey’s the thing).

This is an intelligent film that gives the viewer a chance to see for themselves what’s going on instead of the filmmaker indoctrinating the audience. It’s a high-art Ozu-like film. Also, the filmmaker has said his aim was to be in the spirit of a Charlie Chaplin film.

Small Slow But Steady

REVIEWED ON 3/13/2022  GRADE: A-