Even the cineliterate amongst us would probably struggle to state, convincingly, that they had ever seen any of this Japanese auteurs work.
EIFF Artistic Director, Chris Fujiwara, has decided to grant Somai his first major retrospective at this years festival. It is clear from listening to Fujiwara speak that he feels a great sense of injustice on behalf of the, sadly, deceased Somai. A towering influence on Japanese cinema and on several young Japanese directors it is, perhaps, curious that so little is known about him here.
Released in 1983 "PP Rider" is, on the surface, a fairly familiar tale; a group of young teens embark on a road trip in search of one of their peers. We've seen that story before in films like "Stand By Me", "The Goonies" and many others. What sets "PP Rider" apart is the thrilling way in which Somai takes such a well known plot and delivers something that is, genuinely, unlike anything else you are likely to see.
The young teens in question are Bruce, JoJo and Jisho; two boys and a girl with boyish qualities. Spending the afternoon at the school swimming pool they fall foul of the school bully Depunaga. Confronting him in the parking lot of the school after their humiliation the group witness his abduction by some Yakuza and set out to rescue him.
What follows is a road trip that involves corrupt police officers (a theme repeated in much more detail and with heightened realism in Gen Takahashis glorious epic "Confessions of a Dog" in 2011), a school teacher who is more hindrance than help and whom the teens treat, for the most part, with near total disdain, incompetent Yakuza and a host of other wired characters (and I do mean wired).
Those who have seen "Beat" Takeshis "Kikujiro" will be well aware of the humor that can be derived from the mix of precocious children and ineffective adults as well as the nuances of Japanese humor. "PP Rider" is even more wickedly hilarious as well as being wonderfully heartwarming in places. Somai has, even in a film this early in his career, a very clear and distinct style...characters are almost perpetually in motion, rarely, if ever, are there shots of characters on their own but instead there are myriad group shots and long shots that constantly set the action and force the audience to see past just people.
On the evidence of this it would appear that Fujiwaras decision to shine the spotlight on this Japanese master has been the correct one and, with luck, this will the first step in bringing his work to a wider audience here in the UK.