Masaki Suda has left behind his peers and joins Shota Sometani, Masataka Kubota, and Kento Nagayama in the elite group of young Japanese actors, by his remarkable and sensitive portrayal of Toma in Backwater (Tomogui). Kamen Rider fans may remember Suda as Philip, the male lead, and half of the eponymous hero of the 2009-2010 Kamen Rider Series, Kamen Rider W.
Like a snake shedding its skin, Masaki Suda has evolved from an aspiring young actor playing high school kids to the son of a sadistic father and a war-stricken, disabled mother in this film by Shinji Aoyama (Tokyo Kouen, Sad Vacation, Crickets).
Toma is like any ordinary 17-year old, he is on the verge of manhood and thinks nothing else but sex. Unlike geeky-nerdy and shy virgin Japanese boys, he has a girlfriend Chikusa (Misaki Kinoshita) and has plenty of opportunities to satisfy his lust. While sex is a constant craving, family matters is also a big concern. His parents are separated, and he longs for them to be together, even for a short period as they catch fish in the backwaters of Kawake.
His father was a lot younger than his Mom, and the reason became apparent after his parents got married. Madoka (Ken Mitsuishi) has a long history of abusing women, and it was only during her pregnancy that Jinko (Yuko Tanaka) was spared from the violence.
Toma may hate his Dad, but he also shows tendencies that he might follow his brutal ways. Living with him and his lover, Kotoko (Yukiko Shinohara), Toma is constantly aware of their violent lovemaking. He relieves himself while taking long baths and by spending time with Chikusa as they hide and have sex in the Buddhist temple's storeroom.
An unexpected and tragic event follows just as Toma and Chikusa are about to reconcile after a short and serious quarrel.
Based on the Akutagawa Prize-winning novel by Shinya Tanaka and adopted by Haruhiko Arai, Tomogui won the Best Director award from the Swiss Critics' Federation and the Best Film award from the Junior Jury's at the 2013 Locarno International Film Festival.
Masaki Suda is the heart and soul of the film, but the superb supporting cast were scene stealers at times.
As mentioned in the introduction, this is a significant departure from Suda's previous roles and elevates him into the elite group of young Japanese actors who have collaborated with acclaimed filmmakers. Such players include Shota Sometani (Himizu), Kento Nagayama (The Cowards who Looked up to the Sky, Shield of Straw) and Masataka Kubota (Thirteen Assassins).
Other actors like Ken Mitsuishi was quite capable as the sadistic Dad. He's someone you would hate the minute you saw him. Yuko Tanaka, on the other hand, was both endearing and sympathetic. Together with Masaki Suda, they look like an authentic family of three - the chemistry between Suda and Tanaka is undeniable, and there was a scene where they linger together, enjoying each others' company.
Why didn't you take me with you? Asked Tooma.
You're this man's offspring, replies the mother.
By that time, I was pregnant again with your sister. I was over forty and wanted one last baby...But I thought one child with that man is enough, so I had it scraped out
Tooma looked at his mom with a certain melancholic look, while his Dad appeared but decided to stay away from them.
Tooma's girlfriend played by Misaki Kinoshita has an on-screen charm uniquely her own, and while both are young and aggressive in sex, she was able to exude a certain sensuality usually reserved for older women. Yukiko Shunihara, the abused lover of Tooma's dad also deserved commendation for her role.
For those wanting to see Masaki Suda in one of his finest roles, then watch this movie at all cost. The story is in itself quite absorbing and worth your while.