Shinpan (The Trial)

A surrealistic double reality

Franz Kafka wrote the source novel in 1914-15. Interpretations vary, but let’s call it a criticism of faceless and inhuman bureaucracy as power shifts to the right. The story has been filmed a few times, most notably in 1962 by Orson Welles. Now, Tokyo filmmaker John Williams has adapted it to present-day Japan and crowdfunded it into production. This, alone, makes Shinpan worth a look.

Yosuke Kimura wakes up one morning to the sight of two strangers in his bedroom. They smugly inform him that they have a warrant for his arrest on unspecified charges, issued by an unnamed and inaccessible authority. They don’t arrest him, but confiscate his watch and eat his breakfast apple. He then receives a summons to appear before a court.

When he finally finds the vaguely described venue, a high-school gym, he is told that he is an hour and 26 minutes late, despite the fact that no time was specified in the summons. There’s laundry hanging behind the “judge” and someone is apparently having sex in the balcony.

There ensues a series of Kafka-esque riddles, seductions, proffered advice and betrayals as Kimura falls further into the maw of this shadow criminal justice system. Appropriately eerie sound design.

Being shown through July 20th with English subs at Eurospace in Shibuya. (113 min)

Screening times available on website: