In Third Window’s wheelhouse of contemporary Japanese independent cinema, Zokki is an odd beast. Based on a manga and adapted as an omnibus with different directors, the film feels uniquely Japanese. To quote the Australian classic The Castle, it’s the vibe of the thing. Finding humour, absurdity and meaning is not a trait unique to any nation’s filmmaking — just ask the Coen Brothers — but Zokki is a great demonstration of Japan’s own take on that vibe.
Zokki follows several stories, in which the connective tissue concerns characters adjacently interacting, sharing the same town and often roughly the same period of time. Some are only minutes in length while one takes up a good chunk of the film. It can be discombobulating at the start, as we aren’t sure if this is a “22 Short Films about Springfield” affair or more of a Wheel of Fortune and Fantasy offering. It’s a bit of the best of both worlds, with each story no longer than it needs to be. It does hamper some themes at which the film winks, as well as stories with which I wish we’d have had more time.
The closest companion is the Coen Brothers’ The Ballad of Buster Scruggs, where, without any overt comedy or drama, you swing unexpectedly from laughter to concern. Zokki is not for everyone, but those on its wavelength will turn it over in their mind for days afterward. The lack of traditional structure forced by its omnibus structure underlines the mundanity and lived-in nature of its tales. That’s often life, continuing after the story ends, so to speak. These are but snapshots of lives in the stories. The framing gives Zokki meaning with which to engage.
Per Third Window’s usual, Zokki is not as packed a release as some of its higher-end boutique contemporaries. But what it has hits the mark, including interviews with all three directors and a behind-the-scenes feature. It’s also reflective of Third Window’s mission to make Japanese independent films more broadly known rather than stack up extras. To their credit, Zokki is another film I was more than happy to add to my library of Japanese cinema.