Based on a novel by Ryô Asai, and set in a Japanese high school in an unnamed town, The Kirishima Thing follows a group of students over a five-day period leading up to parent’s night. The film focuses on two groups of students, dividing them up into those that participate in after class activities and those that do not. The school’s star pupil Kirishima is strangely absent from class. By all accounts things are going well for Kirishima. He is star of the volleyball team, he is dating Risa (Mizuki Yamamoto), and his best friend is Hiroki (Masahiro Higashide), the next best athlete in school. Although Kirishima is not returning calls or texts, everyone is still expecting him to turn up in class before parent’s night.

The film uses this simple premise as a jumping off point to explore the mini-society that exists in high school. The Kirishima Thing dives into the hierarchical structure and roles that many students fall into. Risa and her friend Sana (Mayu Matsuoka), who is dating Hiroki, represent the popular upper echelon. They deem themselves above after class activities, but do stick around to wait for their boyfriends. The next level in the hierarchy is the athletes, followed by the band members, and at the bottom are the “nerds” who inhabit the film club.

As is usually the case in this type of piece, the two most interesting characters are outside of the popular groups. The first is the captain of the band, saxophone player Aya Sawashima (Suzuka Ohgo), who has a crush on Hiroki and takes to practicing in unusual areas knowing that he will be in plain view. The other engaging character is Ryoya Maeda (Ryûnosuke Kamiki), who is the head of the film club. Maeda frequently defies his teacher by writing and shooting a zombie film in, and around, the school. This inevitably leads to a climatic confrontation on the school’s roof.

The Kirishima Thing is at its strongest when portraying how the order and structure of Japanese society impacts the high school. The uniform clad students endure long days of arriving pre-sunrise to departing in the dark of night. The sports teams practice and play on both Saturday and Sunday determined to earn honour and recognition for their school. There is great respect for one’s elders as the students bow to their teachers when greeting and departing. Director Daihachi Yoshida astutely highlights how tradition still plays an important role even in the insular version of society that high school creates.

Yoshida constructs a film that is both visually appealing and very well written. The opening sequence, titled Friday, is shot from four different perspectives which helps to emphasize how each group interprets their place in the hierarchy. This allows Yoshida to use different camera angles, framing and even alter the content to accentuate the current perspective of a particular scene. Yoshida manages the drama by evoking a sense of a contained atmosphere. Many of the school arrivals are shot from above to make the school feel small and overcrowded.

The Kirishima Thing is a superior presentation of high school life that takes a different path from typical conventions. The characters move in and out of the preconceived notions that one would normally associate with their roles. As a result, Yoshida captures the structure of Japanese school life in a robust and enjoyable way. The Kirishmia Thing is a film that I can definitely recommend.

Tonight 8:30 PM, AGO Jackman Hall