The story of two high school students who crosses social boundaries between the elite and lower class at their school. Ryoya Maeda (Ryûnosuke Kamiki), from the lower class, is a member of the film club, while Hiroki Kikuchi (Masahiro Higashide), from the elite class, is a non-participating member of the high school baseball team.

Knock-on effect of absent classmate sets school in a spin.

JAPANESE FILM FESTIVAL: In Daihachi Yoshida’s The Kirishima Thing, high school culture is reduced to a personality cult; a single shift in human dynamics throws up feelings of loss and discontent. High school here is like a delicate organism; it’s a 'nervous system’ dependent on hierarchies and status, star players and less 'talented’ kids – let’s face it, nerds - who know their place in the order of things.

We get the sense from the start that Kirishima’s 'power’ was more imagined than real.

The drama is about what happens when one senior teen, Kirishima, an outstanding athlete and all-purpose high achiever, 'rebels’ against this hermetically sealed world of conformity (and its attendant petty and trivial values). Actually, we’re unsure as to why Kirishima opts out. And since he’s a phantom presence – spoken about, but never seen on screen – questions of motive and psychology have no consequence to the main action. This isn’t, in other words, some cold-eyed abstract about the endemic corruption of an institution. Rather it’s a sad-eyed comedy of manners.

Once Kirishima removes himself from the 'student body’ all sense of balance is lost. Losing Kirishima for the kids here is like losing a limb. In the wake of his sudden and unexplained absenteeism on the eve of a championship volleyball match, the kids, who feel betrayed and hurt, are shaken from their smug complacency. They start to question everything, especially themselves. Still, there’s an irony here; we get the sense from the start that Kirishima’s 'power’ was more imagined than real.

Based on a novel by Ryo Asai and written by Kohei Kiyasu and Yoshida The Kirishima Thing has a tricky time-shifting multi-character structure (which may have derived from the novel which I have not read; the book’s narrative was broken up, omnibus style). In the movie we see the same event and sometimes an entire scene, multiple times; but each time we experience it from the point of view of a different character. In 'rewinding’ the action Yoshida sketches in how every sub-culture in the school interacts, often in unhealthy and subversive ways. Schoolyard politics is everything here; kids spy, eavesdrop and strategise in order to survive (and pursue their passions, some innocent, some not so, some romantic.)

The action follows a handful of characters; there’s Kirishima’s best pal Hiroki Kikuchi (Masahiro Higashide) and Aya (Suzuka Ohgo), the nerdy girl who has a crush on him. There’s also Kirishima’s girlfriend Risa (Mizuki Yamamoto) who behaves like a 'princess’ but hides a deep insecurity.

But perhaps the best characters are two misfits who seem to have a healthy perspective on high school and its dramas; they are Kasumi (Ai Hashimoto), Risa’s friend who passes for a 'cool kid’ but has the heart and mind of a nerd; and Maeda (Ryunosuke Kamiki), the earnest, bespectacled would-be film director whose whole life revolves around the film club.

As the plot develops we see these relationships shift and change; bullies are ridiculed, nerds live the dream, and all social expectations are shifted, turned over and re-evaluated.

Shot in widescreen, Yoshida plays cleverly with space, avoiding the 'prison’ imagery cliché of high school pics. Instead the shots seem designed to project the way the kids’ emotions are in a state of flux; in good times the school looks comfy but when things hit critical mass the mood takes on a wintry aspect.

All the acting, from a large and convincingly youthful cast, is fine and the whole thing is skillfully edited for suspense and intrigue, making the most of the stop/start story motif.

Still, The Kirishima Thing takes a while to generate emotional heat. It’s not until the films final stanza that there’s any real kick. Throughout the running time there’s been a subplot about Maeda and his pals and their ambition to make a zombie movie. This is not only a way for Maeda – who looks like he ought to wear a 'road kill’ sign on his back – to get some semblance of control in his life; it’s also an ironic and self-conscious personal testament. Maeda’s movie, derided by his teachers as an impersonal genre exercise is about the 'living dead’ and their revenge; and of course its Maeda’s wry comment on his own existential high school dilemma.