Film Reviews

Review: ‘The Gatekeeper’

Hot Docs 2016

Shige scanning cliffs w/ binoculars
Photo by Yung Chang


The Gatekeeper
(Canada, 40 min.)
Dir. Yung Chang
Programme: World Showcase (Canadian Premiere)

Director Yung Chang walks a moral precipice in The Gatekeeper. This work from the award-winning filmmaker of Up the Yangtze and EyeSteel Film marks a collaboration with the new doc unit Field of Vision set up by Oscar winner Laura Poitras, AJ Schnack, and former Hot Docs Programming Director Charlotte Cook. The result is very promising. The Gatekeeper expertly uses every second of its 40-minute running time as Chang observes the rocky cliffs of Tojinbo, Japan, which offer stepping stones between life and death for numerous people among the estimated 25 000 Japanese citizens who commit suicide annually. The film tells the story of retired police officer Yukio Shige who bravely patrols the cliffs and saves lost souls.

Tojinbo, now a tourist attraction due to the notoriety of its death tolls, attracts flocks of tourists who gawk up at the cliffs from the waters below or snap photos on selfie sticks while standing precariously close to the edge. The doc follows Shige as he plays a gatekeeper who refuses to let troubled Japanese into the afterlife. Every frame of The Gatekeeper is tense as the weathered old man roams the cliffs and scans the rocks in search of potential jumpers. One expects a body to drop outside the frame at any moment, and the film conveys Shinge’s nerve-wracking surveillance of the people by fleetingly diverting the camera’s gaze between potential jumpers.

Gatekeeper, hauntingly shot by cinematographer Alan Poon, provides one particularly tense sequence as Shingo spies an especially troubling candidate near the ridge. The film follows the gatekeeper and his team as a manhunt ensues late into the night. The sequence conveys the weight of Shinge’s duties and the sense of obligation he bears. He knows through experience the legacy of suffering that suicide leaves on the living. The film invites us to share the burden of his responsibility.

The Gatekeeper screens:
-Saturday, April 30 at Cineplex Scotiabank at 7:30 PM
-Sunday, May 1 at TIFF Bell Lightbox at 2:00 PM
-Sunday, May 8 at Cineplex Scotiabank at 11:00 AM

Please visit the POV Hot Docs hub for more coverage on this year’s festival.

Hot Docs runs April 28 – May 8. Visit www.hotdocs.ca for more information.