Film Review: Amiko

An uncompromising, original coming-of-age film graces the Fantasia International Film Festival.
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The obsessions and frustrations of adolescence sing throughout writer/director Yoko Yamanaka’s feature debut Amiko, having its North American premiere this weekend at Montreal’s Fantasia Film Festival. Tales of teenage girls suffering the one-two punch of identity crises and first love are by no means in short supply--you can point to Kelly Fremon Craig’s The Edge of Seventeen or Greta Gerwig’s Lady Bird as particularly good, particularly recent examples. What sets Amiko apart is a lo-fi, punkish feel that takes the sentimental nature of its story matter and gives it a swift kick in the school uniform-clad rear.

Teenage Amiko doesn’t say much, but it’s clear that—in the grand tradition of generation upon generation of shy, brooding teenage girls before her—she feels very, very strongly. About Radiohead, about the innate pointlessness of life, and most of all about her classmate Aomi, a soccer player who—in the grand of tradition generation upon generation of pretty, popular  boys before him—boasts secret hidden depths. At least that’s what Amiko thinks based on a conversation with Aomi that clearly holds more meaning for her than it did for him. She pines from afar for the rest of the year. He goes back to barely realizing she exists.

This potential teenage romance takes a turn for the dramatic when Aomi runs off to Tokyo, prompting Amiko to leave leave their small, dull town in an attempt to track him down. Amiko informs her best friend but not her mother, who—like most adults in these teens’ lives—is not really present in Amiko in any meaningful way. Instead, Yamanaka, who was only 19 when she made the film, doubles down on the inner life of her intrepid heroine. To Amiko, Aomi represents not just a crush, not even just a soulmate, but the very future Amiko wants for herself: sticking it to the man and refusing to conform.

Of course, the dreams of teenagers rarely make it into adulthood unscathed. But it’s to Yamanaka’s credit that Amiko holds onto the brilliant, gutsy arrogance, the “Fuck you, I know who I am and what I want” confidence that can be at once irritating and impressive in teenagers found in the wild. Amiko is a low-key movie. It’s a low-budget movie, certainly. Like it’s main character, it’s not loud or flashy. But there’s a steely core here, a stubborn determination to not let the world break one’s spirit. To go after what you want and never sell out. From humble trappings shine the spirit of a true punk.