“COMPLICITY”— The Human Condition and the Search for Connections


The Human Condition and the Search for Connections

Amos Lassen

Japanese Director Kei Chikaura takes us on a journey with Chen Liang (Lu Yulai), a young Chinese immigrant illegally living in Japan who buys a fake ID and cell phone on the black market. When he receives a call about a job, he accepts the offer blindly. He assumes the identity of Liu Wei and ends up working as an apprentice in a family-run soba restaurant. As he gets used to his new life, he forms a strong bond with his sagely mentor (Tatsuya Fuji) and finds happiness in a romance with a local artist, but the constant threat of deportation hangs heavily over him.  We get a rare inside view of life as a marginalized immigrant in Japan.

Japan has found itself in a moment of possible crisis as it begins to realize  that it will need to embrace immigration or undergo a serious labor shortage. Much of Japan remains uncomfortable with the idea of overseas labor especially regarding “low skilled” manual jobs. 

Chen Liang (Lu Yulai), finds himself in just this position as he leaves his sickly mother and grandma alone in rural China in the hope of making enough money in Japan to come home and restart the family business. What he discovers, however, is that he’s essentially been trafficked as cheap labor and is already in debt for an ID card that he was conned into paying three times the going rate for. Now living under the name Liu Wei, he is disturbed by receiving calls on his new phone intended for his namesake but  he is tempted when Liu Wei gets a job offer from an employment agency. Passing himself off as Liu Wei, he takes the job only realizing later that it’s for a job as a trainee chef in a family-owned soba restaurant. 

Ageing soba chef Hiroshi (Tatsuya Fuji) and his daughter Kaori (Kio Matsumoto) are warm and welcoming people who are actually a little bit excited that someone from China wants to learn about soba. Chen is taken in as a member of the family, he begins to feel conflicted since he is after all lying to them, at least about his name and circumstances, and his presence in their home might cause them trouble if they find out. Meanwhile, he also strikes up a friendship with an artist, Hazuki (Sayo Akasaka) who is learning Manda but has to lie to her too, pretending they may one day meet up in Beijing when in reality he has never even been there. 

His burgeoning is what brings his downfall as she, unaware he is undocumented, reports his stolen wallet to the police. The lies do not stop there . Chen pretends that everything’s fine in order to facilitate his “happy” life in Japan where he is supposed to make lots of money and come back a wealthy man. In order to make his dream succeed, Chen Liang must become Liu Wei at the exclusion of all else, forsaking his life as Chen Liang and living carefully as if he has nothing to fear. 

Emphasizing how much they have in common rather than the various ways in which Chen Liang differs from the world around him, Chikaura gives us a sympathetic portrait of a migrant worker., Complicity is a beautifully drawn character study in which kindness and compassion eventually open new doors for a conflicted young man trying to find his place in q hostile world.

A strong central performance from Yulai Lu and great supporting work from Tatsuya Fuji, the film explores the intersection between the identities people need to perform in life and those they might discover within themselves.

“Complicity” is filled with poetic representations of Japanese food culture and rural life. This is a film about “the beauty of the human condition and about risking everything to have those relationships that mean the most to us and why cultural differences can bring people together rather than push them apart”


  • Bonus Short Film – About Bintou(Written and directed by Dezhou Li | China/United Kingdom | 13 minutes) — This illuminating documentary short follows a young African woman’s life as a student in Guangzhou, China. In French and Mandarin with English subtitles. 

 About Film Movement

 Founded in 2002, Film Movement is a North American distributor of award-winning independent and foreign films based in New York City. It has released more than 250 feature films and shorts culled from prestigious film festivals worldwide.  Film Movement’s theatrical releases include American independent films, documentaries, and foreign art house titles. Its catalog includes titles by directors such as Hirokazu Kore-eda, Maren Ade, Jessica Hausner, Andrei Konchalovsky, Andrzej Wajda, Diane Kurys, Ciro Guerra and Melanie Laurent. In 2015, Film Movement launched its reissue label Film Movement Classics, featuring new restorations released theatrically as well as on Blu-ray and DVD, including films by such noted directors as Eric Rohmer, Peter Greenaway, Bille August, Marleen Gorris, Takeshi Kitano, Arturo Ripstein, King Hu, Sergio Corbucci and Ettore Scola. For more information, please visit www.filmmovement.com. Visit www.filmmovementplus.com for more information about Film Movement Plus, the new subscription streaming service from Film Movement. 

Leave a Reply