Filled to the rafters with sacks of abandoned materials and supplies like unfinished maze walls, colourful with some sense of order, the warehouse boasts a secret many will never discover, forever lacking something quaint yet no less eccentric. For within this makeshift home resides a songstress, long forgotten by the annals of time and memory; clad in school uniform her longing heart and ukulele sing harmoniously waiting to be heard by anyone in tune with the most minutiae of sensitivities. And who shall stumble upon the songstress’ song but a wandering soul, lost in her own bubble floating through life in a daydream of doodles and ideas. As if enchanted by what she hears, our coasting protagonist is about to have her life change in an unimaginable way.
And so begins the unscripted rabbit-hole exploration of female adolescence that is “Infinite Foundation”, Akira Osaki’s answer to a saturated sea of teen dramas teeming with wave upon wave of overly familiar tropes, characters, and storylines. While his film crams its fair-share of these into its drawn-out 102 minutes Osaki’s unconventional execution of an otherwise mundane scenario does a good job of separating itself from the shoal, pushing his young cast of mostly first-timers to the limits of improvisation, fully grounding the reality of his story with a smidgen of authenticity and real-world accuracy. Unshackled from the limitations of a godlike voice Osaki’s performers react to their set-piece situations in the way they themselves would. But while this is certainly freeing and a breath of fresh air, does it necessarily feel real? Palpable? Believable?
These questions and more rattle in the brain as “Infinite Foundations” meanders through its theatricality. For the most part we are concerned with Mirai (Minami Sara), a socially awkward first-year who whittles her supplementary learning away with fashion designs and other doodles, much to the chagrin of her teacher (Goichi Mine). This is until two chance encounters: the first with popular drama club member Nanoka (Nanoka Hara) who, enticed by her drawings, pushes Mirai into eventually designing and making the costumes for their upcoming production of Cinderella; the second with the surreal and exuberant Cosame (singer-songwriter Cosame Nishiyama whose music the film revolves around), the ukulele-playing songstress who becomes Mirai’s confidante, a trusted friend whose unbridled cheerfulness adds much-needed colour to the film’s mundanity.
With Mirai on board with the play her grades improve as much as she begins coming out of her shell, fully embracing her role and forging her own destiny. Inevitably this is all thrown into chaos when Nanoka decides to leave the production to audition for a major film role, spawning a momentous rift between the group in arguably the film’s most memorable sequence outside Nishiyama’s performances. Wearing their emotions painfully across their faces the group expel their true feelings upon each other, unabashed, and completely moving. This turning point upsets the balance and changes the film’s course; a pivotal moment which, unlike many teen dramas, has seemingly irreversible consequences.
And yet, despite such a raw moment, the performances hereon in fall into a trap of over-exaggeration and repetition. The tears and whimpering replace the uncomfortable laughter and smiles which once painted the screen with distinct shades of monotony; what we are left with begins to feel more like a series of dramatic workshop exercises in lieu of a cohesive succession of events. Everything feels dragged out beyond comprehension, unnecessarily padding an already loose story with unfiltered awkwardness; though his young actors largely make this work their reliance on reiteration becomes just as much of a burden as Osaki’s clumsy splicing together of this project.
Putting this into perspective renders this an absolute shame as the more the film progresses the less real it feels; he authenticity of the girl’s chemistry and their responses to the changes around them gradually dissipates, as if forcing themselves into their characters’ shoes. Except, of course, for Cosame and Mirai’s friendship which blossoms across the span of the film, keeping it from slipping into tedium thanks to its fantastical nature. Nishiyama is an absolute delight to watch, transporting both Mirai and the audience into another dimension far removed from the real world. Meanwhile her music adds a slither of tenderness and – albeit sentimental – humanity, flowing through the film like a calm river. This magic (as well as the songs’ message) does occasionally bleed into the narrative at its most heartfelt and earnest, when Nanoka tells Mirai “nothing changes unless you take action” for instance.
Such specks of wonder ultimately save the film from joining the horde of other similar dramas. The improvised performances add a unique spin, truly telling the story from a young girl’s perspective – Masami Inomoto, whose cinematography far exceeds his editing capabilities, flits between fantasy and reality to drive this point home – but becomes more of a liability towards the end. The shifts in tone, pace, and even form do more to confuse and nauseate than anything else. The potential to have been something far greater than the end product is, much like its namesake, were infinite. However, there is plenty of praise to be given, with the promise of hopefully more experimental work from Osaki to come extremely welcome.