JFFO 2022. ‘Awake’ review: “shōgi” as a lifestyle

The reviews of Daniel Farriol at the Japanese Film Festival 2022:
wake up

wake up is a Japanese drama set in the professional world of gaming. shogiWritten and directed by Atsuhiro Yamada (happy ending). The story follows Eiichi who, since he was a child, dedicates all his time to becoming one of the best players in shogi including attending classes, studying, and practicing as often as possible. Over the years he will become a computer scientist who will develop software for the game and be able to beat the best professional players, including his eternal rival Asakawa. It is starring Ryo Yoshizawa (Tokyo Avengers, Sakura), Ryūya Wakaba (On The Street, Gantz), Fumika Baba (Ribenji Girl, The Bastard and the Beautiful World), Junya Kawashima, Kanna Mori, Tasuku Nagaoka, Makoto Nakamura, Motoki Ochiai and Kan’ichirô Satô. The film has been seen in Spain through the JFF+ Festival (Japanese Film Festival) in February 2022.

The shogiancient game with a board similar to chess

wake up is a curious film that introduces us to the world of professional competitions in shogia Japanese strategy game derived from chaturanga Indian and that has certain similarities with chess in the arrangement of pieces and moves on a board. The film focuses on the relationship of rivalry between Eiichi and Asakawa, both with the ambition of becoming professional soccer players since they were very young. shogi, so they dedicate all their leisure hours to the obsessive study of the game. Eiichi is a socially maladjusted person who finds it difficult to relate to others, when he understands that he will never achieve his goal of being the best player in shogi of the country will enter an identity crisis that will make it abandon the game and focus its efforts on developing computer software that allows it to beat professional players with the help of artificial intelligence.

The idea of ​​the «Denou Sen» battle between computers and human players of shogi it fictionalizes something that actually existed for about a decade until 2017. It was similar to what happened in chess in the 1990s when the IBM supercomputer called Deep Blue repeatedly faced the world champion Gary Kasparov, showing the entire planet what the advances in the development of artificial intelligence were until then. The AI ​​program that is created in the film is named wake up which means «Awake» and is a metaphorical way to talk about the path that the protagonist must take during his vital learning.

Competitiveness as the engine of history

Although the film is a very interesting document for a neophyte Western viewer in the shogi, the rhythm is tiring and repetitive, being less educational than necessary for those of us who were not previously familiar with the game. If we take chess as a reference again and compare the scenes of shogi on wake up with the chess of queen’s gambit (Scott Frank2020) there are great differences between one and the other in the respective capacity of the staging to generate a sense of spectacle that is exciting for the viewer from games as slow and cerebral as these.

The little dramatic dimension of the two main characters, of whom we will only know their sick dedication to the game and little else, does not help the rhythm of the film much. The subplots are conspicuous by their absence, especially considering that the film lasts two hours. It would have been nice to develop a bit of family ties or relationships with other secondary characters to better understand the two introverted protagonists who sometimes seem to be outlined as having autism. The inks are not even charged enough in that admiration-hate relationship in which Eiichi and Asakawa live immersed all their lives, ending up recognizing each other through a comfortable closure without real winners. Computers are faster than men in their learning, but humans are capable of employing unethical tricks that artificial intelligences have not yet assimilated as part of the game.

Despite its lack of narrative ambition, wake up It is a very interesting work as it addresses a subject that is so little known in the West and that, moreover, serves to bring us closer to Japanese culture by reflecting on some frequent characteristics in their social interaction such as competitiveness, self-demand or honor.

What do you think of the movie?

wake up