Masahiro Umeda in Yuko No Tenbin | A Balance by Yujiro Harumoto | JPN 2020, Panorama | © Eigakobo Harugumi

The grueling behind-the-scenes production and on-set drama of a typical documentary production is a frequently underrepresented topic. Very little do we see actual B-Roll of crew members actively producing their films, or even a recollection of testimonies and insight on the process for that matter. In many ways, it’s the greatest selling point of A Balance — the sophomore feature endeavour from Japanese director Yujiro Harumoto. Following the talented Kumi Takiuchi in the lead role of Yuko — we see her every demanding task, in order to achieve the most pure form of the cinematic truth possible. From pressing roundtable discussions with strict producers to impromptu interviews, Harumoto captures the relentless pursuit and ingenuity of the truth. It’s a relentless journey, as the viewer completely views the film through Yuko’s shoes and her desperate search for answers. 

The irony of the depicted attention to realism is that A Balance ultimately suffers from focusing far too heavily on the aforementioned documentary process. Occasionally satisfying and often needed within the film’s dense final thirty-minutes — A Balance unfortunately lingers in its unfocused opening, that only creates further confusion when a certain character reveal is announced at the start of the second act. After all, the end goal of demonstrating the non-fiction profession field is specifically meant to observe the internal headspace and susceptibility of Yuko’s consciousness. Instead, Harumoto abuses his footing and nearly wastes a perfectly in-depth character analysis with his detailed depictions of the industry.

There is simply no reason why the opening act of A Balance is so needlessly long-winded. It isn’t until the forty-minute mark when the film eventually announces it’s inciting incident. But by that point, the film’s established themes and characters are already set up — where Harumoto essentially combines the narratives of two films in one. Immediacy and clarity is always the key. However, while A Balance is structurally messy; the film is also undeniably well-intentioned when looking at the film’s representation of sexual abuse, power dynamics, bullying, and other heavy topics from a more generalised point of view. It’s a film about people, for the people; a desperate warning for those to be wary of succumbing to the film’s obsessive interconnected web of lies and abuse.

A Balance presents a tight trapeze act on humanitarian ethics. Whenever the film entirely focuses on the human dynamics at play, the naturalism of the central performances radiates an authentic amount of accuracy within its portrayals. Even in its lesser moments, A Balance never wastes a single ounce of its emotional honesty. With honesty comes truth — and the truth will forever be complicated. It’s ugly and virtually impossible to trace within its web of red-herrings. It’s the foundation of the cycles of abuse; where the withdrawing of human principle will always cause more harm than good. Where Harumoto falters in focus, his proactive material on the manipulation and alteration of truth is one that is sure to resonate and potentially foresee a new wave of indoctrinated viewers — ready to take steps forward in ending these senseless cycles of psychological and physical violence. 

Dir: Yujiro Harumoto

Cast: Kumi Takiuchi, Ken Mitsuishi, Masahiro Umeda, Yuumi Kawai, Yohta Kawase

Country: Japan

Year: 2021

Runtime: 152 minutes

A Balance premiered at this year’s 71st Berlinale as part of the Panorama program. The film is currently seeking international distribution.

By David Cuevas

David Cuevas is a writer, reporter, and the official festivals editor (US/Canada) for FilmHounds Magazine. In his spare time, you can find him watching a bunch of movies while contemplating on his own existence.

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