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Ginji the Speculator

A noble child vegetable seller grows up to become a powerful and sly trader at the rice exchange, in 18th century Japan - cutesy fable is in Offical Competition of the 26th Tallinn Black Nights Film Festival


The year is 1730 and the place is somewhere in rural Japan. Dad tells child Ginji he has no future as peasant. The small boy’s perfect sales pitch – in which he emotionally and eloquently explains his family’s hardship and devotion to daikon (radish) harvesting – leads to a very large sale. That’s the first time that his oratory and persuasion skills shine. Experienced merchant Kihei takes the child under his arm following his father’s tragic death. Fast-forward about five years. Ginji (Yu Uemera) is now a young adult and a cunning merchant himself at the regional rice exchange (also known as “futures market”) at the Otsu village.

Samurais operate the market as some sort of militia. They write and implement the laws. Their code of honour is very strict and unforgiving, which we learn at the beginning of the film when Ginji is nearly scalped by a highly dextrous such fighter.

This auction market works more or less like a stock exchange. Prices fluctuate according to weather variations and other factors affecting production, transport and so on. The food staple is weighed in an hieroglyphic ancient measurements called “koku”, “momme” and “bu”. Ginji soon learns how to cheat and deceit his follow merchants. He’s become a man very different to the honourable child who we met at the beginning of the film. What hasn’t changesdis that he remains highly eloquent, persuasive and indeed charming, quickly winning the heart of a small troupe that loyally supports him in his endeavours. Ginji’s associates are grateful for his gregarious efforts: “we wouldn’t be here if it wasn’t for you”. Until one day a ship sinks, driving rice prices and suspicions sky high, and also throwing Ginji’s relations into turmoil.

The music score is almost cartoonish. The film climaxes with a couple of super cutesy dance acts, with modern-day Japanese pop music. The unabashed silliness of these scenes makes them thoroughly enjoyable. This is a movie dotted with extra boisterous and colourful little moments. Unfortunately, however, the story doesn’t gel together as a whole, with too much emphasis on the visuals, and a few loopholes. Maybe a little too esoteric for people outside of Japan.

Mino’s third film feels very puerile, infantile, almost as if it was made for children. Except that it isn’t. A sexually voyeuristic scene in which two males characters observe female breasts from a distance through magnifying glasses (not surprising for a country where up-skirting is widespread) reminds us that this indeed a film aimed at adults. It is inferior to Make the Devil Laugh, a far more profound and reflective film. His previous feature premiered last year, also in the Official Competition of the Tallinn Black Nights Film Festival. The Japanese director achieved a lot more emotional impact in his film from last year (which transposes an ancient Japanese tradition into modern-day society) than he does in his new movie (which travels back in time in order in order to portray the days of yore).

Ginji the Speculator has just premiered in the Official Competition of the 26th Tallinn Black Nights Film Festival.

By Victor Fraga - 25-11-2022

Victor Fraga is a Brazilian born and London-based journalist and filmmaker with more than 20 years of involvement in the cinema industry and beyond. He is an LGBT writer, and describes himself as a di...

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