Director: Rachael Lucas
Stars: Taki Abe, Kaita Abe, Miki Sasaki, Nobuhisa Ikeda
First viewing, via DVD
Bondi Tsunami is the first of two surf-themed movies being covered in September on Down Under Flix. But the word “movie” doesn’t quite convey the very particular flavour, or the somewhat acquired taste, of Rachael Lucas’s flick. The film’s promotional tagline, “An original music video motion picture experience”, does a much better job.
Chilled slacker Shark (Taki Abe) and animated goofball Yuto (Kaita Abe) are two young Japanese men in Australia who embark on a surfing expedition. On the road they pick up two other Japanese travellers, a young woman named Kimiko (Miki Sasaki) and a hitch-hiking stoner-surfer-philosopher (Nobuhisa Ikeda), who join them on their road trip from Bondi Beach, NSW to Surfer’s Paradise, Queensland. There isn’t much more plot to describe, as Bondi Tsunami isn’t all that concerned with narrative: it’s part music video compilation, part travelogue, with amusing vignettes and enigmatic narration thrown in.
Bondi Tsunami is the epitome of independent filmmaking. Director Lucas, making her feature debut (and, sadly, sole film to date), fulfilled multiple other functions on the film including writer, cinematographer, composer and costume designer. With a small budget and crew she travelled through NSW and Queensland with her non-professional cast, filming and improvising along the way. That sort of D.I.Y. daring is admirable, and that spirit of adventure permeates the film: in its sun-kissed, sun-bleached enshrining of travel and surf, Bondi Tsunami is a film drunk in love with the road and the coast.
Having said that, I found the first third of Bondi Tsunami a tough watch: it’s pretty much just travelling, surfing, and constant music, and I was somewhat confounded by and resistant to its very specific groove. But the film picks up with the introduction of Kimiko, where the glimmer of a narrative thread emerges. Yuto initially goes gaga for their new travelling companion, but the novelty of female companionship soon wears off and Kimiko becomes a third wheel in the mobile bro’s club. The film thereafter milks the men’s arrested development and Kimiko’s resilient cluelessness for laughs.
The actors are lively avatars for this adventure, and I use the term “avatars” rather than characters quite deliberately. As befitting a feature length music video, the characters are fairly one-dimensional, and the non-professional cast spend a lot of time adopting music video and advertising-style poses and posturing. But the fact they’re non-professional gives them an endearing quality: they’re interesting to watch and relatively unmannered. Miki Sasaki in particular has a likeable screen presence and gives a spunky and spirited performance, even if her character errs to stereotype.
In summary: Any assessment of Bondi Tsunami is bound to be highly subjective: there’s no real barometer or common grammar to size it up. Whatever its shortcomings, as Australia’s first and only Japanese-language, surfing-centric, feature length road movie music video, it’s a bona fide original.
Next week: Ride the waves again with Phillip Avalon’s Liquid Bridge (2003).