There's been no shortage of movies about illegal immigrants over the past 10 years, partly driven by the dramatic rise in the number of people all over the world fleeing conflict, climate change or lack of opportunity.
This delicate story, shot with a documentary realist style, emerges from the plight of a little-known group of immigrants - the Chinese who make their way to Japan in the belief that a few years of better-paid work there will provide enough money to save them and their families from decades of struggle.
It's a tender - and occasionally nostalgic - tale focusing on a young man who finds himself surprisingly drawn into the art of making Japanese noodles.
It's a tender tale focusing on a young man who finds himself surprisingly drawn into the art of making Japanese noodles.
Impoverished Chen-Liang (Yulai Lu) has a sick mother and a nagging grandmother and is in Japan to learn a trade and send money home to China.
But, as we learn from the movie's opening scene, he's mixed up with a gang of compatriots who have turned to crime because they are unable to find work without visas.
When he witnesses one of his friends picked up by the police and deported, Chen-Liang decides he will take on a new - illegal - identity and stay well clear of petty crime. He accepts a job helping out in a tiny noodle restaurant in Oishida - a small agricultural town in central northern Japan.
Far from the big city and the eyes of police, Chen-Liang keeps his head down and works hard to help the demanding elderly chef Hiroshi (Tatsuya Fuji).
At night he sleeps in a tiny room above the restaurant and by day delivers soba noodles on a bicycle, meeting - amongst a number of the restaurant's loyal clientele - Hazuki (Sayo Akasaka) a beautiful young artist.
As Chen-Liang learns the language and settles into a friendly routine - happily enjoying being a part of a family and a community - he's constantly kept on edge by the sense that he is only one misstep away from being exposed as a criminal and a fraud. The deeper the commitment to his new life, the more he has to lose.
Japanese writer/director Kei Chikaura mixes a classic tale of master and apprentice with the awkwardness of a fish out of water story. It's a first-time feature, made with composure and care, the only flaw the poor handling of the romance between Chen-Liang and Hazuki, which lapses into extreme sentimentality, tonally at odds with the rest of the film and its hand-held realism.
Yulai Lu plays Chen-Liang as innocent, good-natured, jittery and warmhearted. He assures his mother by phone that he's a success but is always ready to pack his bag and run. Flashbacks seep into the storytelling, giving us insights into Chen-Liang's homelife in China before the trip to Japan, and good reason why he's attracted to the tough-love and friendliness of Hiroshi and his daughter (Kio Matsumoto). We learn too the tragic consequences that come with having no legal status: travel to China and back is impossible, whatever the need. And the law can never be a friend.
Complementing Lu's performance is highly experienced Japanese actor Tatsuya Fuji, who delights as the soba noodle master, proud of his tradition and quietly pleased that there's someone to teach the secret moves of kneading, rolling and cutting dough.
The growing sense of warmth and respect between the two central characters - young and old, awkward and assured - is the heart of the film's appeal.
- Complicity premiered at the Toronto International Film Festival in late 2018 and played in the special culinary program at Berlin last year. It's currently is screening on SBS On Demand