Complicity is a considered study of a desperate individual in an unwinnable situation. Chen Liang (Lu Yulai) is a an illegal Chinese immigrant residing in Japan, trying to earn enough money to support his ailing mother and elderly grandmother back in China, who is unfortunately caught in a cycle of bad fortune due to his circumstances. When he narrowly avoids arrest (a fate a friend of his does not escape), he takes on a job as a Soba chef in a remote town and adopts the identity of Liu Wei, but for how long can he maintain this guise?
Chen/Liu is deeply conflicted. He comes across as timid and unsure of himself, allowing others to make decisions for him. He has good intentions and ultimately means well, yet his very presence is built on a deception; there is no positive resolution to be found in the contradiction of a man seeking honest work while residing illegally in a foreign nation.
Far from cynical, Complicity depicts the bittersweet interactions Chen/Liu shares with those around him. Early scenes involving fellow illegal immigrants displays a camaraderie that he sorely needs in his life. Flashbacks to his life in China show the relationships with his loving mother and disapproving grandmother, however over the course of the film these continue to highlight more complex layers to these bonds. Central to the film are the bonds made at his new workplace; an elderly Soba chef (Tatsuya Fuji) and Hazuki, a customer practicing Chinese (Sayo Akasaka). There is joy in these relationships, yet we as viewers and Chen/Liu himself know that there’s an inherent dishonesty lurking beneath, and the film builds tension on when this may to come to light.
Every time a phone rings, any interaction with the police, there’s a peril that this may be when the secret is discovered. Lu does an admirable job of conveying panic in these instances, as the very real fear of his life coming crashing down weighs on him ever more. What is debatably effective are the grander themes of the film: Chen/Liu’s story is cast as deeply personal and does not reflect on wider issues that an illegal immigrant may face, outside of those shorter opening scenes he has a far more desirable fate than numerous others.
There is one scene where we see exploitation of his status, for example. After this moment he is fortunate enough to have a relatively comfortable living provided to him, all things considered. Why I consider this debatable is that while the film does not claim to be making a statement on the subject of illegal immigration in Japan, some deeper exploration of those themes could further enrich Chen/Liu’s story. It is a difficult line to balance, as while there could be room to explore these themes to a greater level, the subdued pacing makes for a suitable companion to scenes of Chen/Liu learning the art of making Soba, which ultimately leads to a deeply affecting emotional climax.
Regardless, Complicity serves as a nuanced portrait of a struggling man and the people he meets along the way. It will be interesting to see director Kei Chikaura grow as a filmmaker in future.
For more on the Glasgow Film Festival 2019 click here.