Konno becomes friends with the enigmatic Hiasa in the Beneath the Shadow movie.

Beneath the Shadow is a Japanese movie that explores the depth of loneliness. The main character is a single gay man leading a monotonous life, until he befriends a rebellious coworker who adds excitement to his usual routine. However, his new friend proves to be an enigma, hiding his true intentions beneath an ambiguous façade.

At over two hours long, I suspect many people will find Beneath the Shadow too long, too slow, and too boring, especially with such a disappointing romance. Nevertheless, this sombre film resonated with me on a deeper level, making me ponder the poignant emotions and its philosophical message.

Beneath the Shadow Summary

What is the original name?

影裏

When was the movie released?

2020

Where was the movie made?

Japan

What is the language used in the movie?

Japanese

What is the movie’s genre?

Drama

How would you describe the movie?

Sad and bittersweet

How long is the movie?

Around 2 hours and 15 minutes long

Is it based on a novel?

Yes, written by Numata Shinsuke

Plot

Konno befriends Hiasa, a rebellious coworker at his company.

In the summer of 2009, Konno accepted a company relocation to a place where he had no family or friends. He leads a mundane life by himself, following a monotonous routine every single day. When he isn’t working, Konno stays at home all the time. He doesn’t go out, doesn’t socialize, and doesn’t have much of a connection with the world.

At work, Konno befriends Hiasa, a rebellious coworker around his age. Hiasa starts to hang out with Konno, introducing his friend to fishing, dancing, and various festivities around town. For a while, Konno enjoys their newfound bond, becoming happier and more sociable. However, Konno is shocked to discover that Hiasa suddenly quit his job at the company one day. The two of them don’t stay in touch afterwards, and Konno falls back to an ordinary routine of solitude.

Nearly a year later, Hiasa shows up at Konno’s doorstep all of a sudden. Hiasa explains that he’s now working as a door-to-door salesman. He sells wedding planning and funeral arrangement insurance services, mainly targeting his sales towards elderly residents who live alone. At night, Hiasa revisits his apartment, hoping to catch up like old times. In a passionate moment, Konno surprises Hiasa with a kiss, but gets rejected by his friend. Despite the awkwardness, Hiasa pretends nothing happened and continues to hang out afterwards.

One evening, Hiasa asks Konno for a favour. He needs to meet his sales quota for the month or risk getting fired from the company. Konno agrees to buy an insurance package from him, signing a monthly contract to help his friend. However, Konno also suspects that he is being used and exploited just to make a sale. He gets into a frosty exchange with Hiasa, distancing himself from his friend afterwards.

In March 2011, a massive earthquake and tsunami rocked Japan, leaving thousands dead across the country. Konno’s colleague shares her theory that Hiasa may have died during the disaster. She explains that Hiasa also sold her those wedding and funeral packages, using a similar sales pitch he gave Konno. Now she can’t get in touch with him anymore. Concerned over his missing friend’s whereabouts, Konno goes on a quest to track down Hiasa and learn more about his past.

Beneath the Shadow Trailer

Beneath the Shadow Cast

Characters

Konno Go Ayano (綾野剛) Go Ayano Instagram

Konno is played by the actor Go Ayano (綾野剛).

Konno is an introverted gay man who doesn’t have any social life after his company relocation. All he does is go to work or stay at home. An avid reader, he likes to read a lot of books. After making friends with Hiasa, Konno becomes a fishing enthusiast. He enjoys his time in the outdoors and goes on fishing expeditions.

Hiasa Ryuhei Matsuda (松田龍平) Ryuhei Matsuda Instagram

Hiasa is played by the actor Ryuhei Matsuda (松田龍平).

Hiasa is Konno’s coworker, befriending him after a random encounter at the company. Hiasa is knowledgeable about fishing and teaches Konno about this hobby. After resigning from his job, Hiasa becomes a door-to-door salesperson. Hiasa lives with his father and has an older brother.

Supporting Cast

Nishiyama is played by the actress Mariko Tsutsui (筒井真理子).

Nishiyama

Mariko Tsutsui (筒井真理子)

Konno's ex is played by the actor Tomoya Nakamura (中村倫也).

Konno’s ex

Tomoya Nakamura (中村倫也)

Hiasa's father is played by the actor Jun Kunimura (國村隼).

Hiasa’s dad

Jun Kunimura (國村隼)

Hiasa's brother is played by the actor Ken Yasuda (安田顕).

Hiasa’s brother

Ken Yasuda (安田顕)

Cast highlights

  • Konno’s actor (Go Ayano) has taken on several gay roles throughout his career. He portrayed a gay character in the 2012 drama Women and Cleopatra, the 2013 movie The Story of Yonosuke, and the 2016 movie Rage.

Beneath the Shadow Review

Review

Movie Review Score: 7.5

B-
Story

★★★☆

Romance

★☆☆☆

Acting

★★★★

Ending

★★☆☆

Konno is suspicious of Hiasa's motives after buying his insurance policy.

After watching Beneath the Shadow, I immediately went online to read a bunch of reviews and movie analysis, because I wasn’t sure if I interpreted its message correctly. This is an abstract film, packed with many metaphors, subtle hints, and unspoken dialogue, leaving the viewers to fill in the blanks themselves. Beneath the Shadow has a dark, brooding story that can be deciphered in many different ways.

The theme of the movie is loneliness, featuring a sad and sympathetic main character in need of companionship. I found Konno to be a tragic yet relatable protagonist, who almost seems resigned to the reality that he’ll be alone forever. I just wanted to console him or at least be his friend in need. 😢 Konno’s actor (Go Ayano) puts in a quietly nuanced performance, carrying the emotional weight of the movie. His screen partner (Ryuhei Matsuda) is also quite capable, creating a complex and intriguing portrayal with that required air of mystery.

If you are expecting an epic gay romance in Beneath the Shadow, you are going to be disappointed. Much like Konno’s character, you will get your hopes up and then you will be crushed. This movie is overwhelmingly driven by grief, despair, and heartbreak. It’s a bleak and emotionally heavy story that won’t make you feel good about love. While the film ends on a more uplifting note, beware that most of Konno’s personal journey is pretty damn grim.

Overall, I found Beneath the Shadow to be a thought-provoking movie. I was engaged by the story, intrigued by the character dynamics, and curious about the significance behind the symbolism. This film resonated with me philosophically, giving me much to think about as I revisit a few memorable moments. If you don’t like overanalyzing every scene to read into the hidden subtext, you probably won’t enjoy this film as much as I do. I like that Beneath the Shadow doesn’t spell out everything for the viewers, relying on you to pick up on signs and make your own deductions.

With an airtime that exceeds over two hours, Beneath the Shadow might not hold your interest with its slow, subtle, and symbolic storytelling. Personally, I am okay with the movie’s length, but I can see why some people might find it too drawn-out and tedious. This is such a lengthy, atmospheric movie that takes place almost too much introspectively. It won’t have broad appeal for everyone, and what I like about Beneath the Shadow might be what many of you don’t like about it.

Story review

Introspective story
Hiasa gets Konno to purchase an insurance package.

I’m generalizing here, but the story in Beneath the Shadow is about a lonely gay man who falls in love with a con artist. As the movie progresses, Konno faces mounting evidence that his friendship with Hiasa isn’t genuine.

What kind of friend quits his job without letting you know or saying goodbye? Hiasa knew where Konno lived, but didn’t make an effort to reach out to him. He only showed up again after getting a new job as an insurance salesman. However, Hiasa rekindled their friendship with an ulterior motive in mind.

Deep down, Konno suspects that he was being used and exploited, but keeps looking for proof that indicates otherwise. He’d like to believe that his relationship with Hiasa was based on a real emotional connection, not just because his friend wanted to leech off him.

Konno
Konno is a lonely gay man without an exciting life until Hiasa appeared.

Konno is what some people might describe as an “easy mark”. As a lonely gay man without friends or close family members, Konno is completely isolated in his life. He spends each day with a mundane routine. Besides work, his most exciting activities include reading, taking care of his plants, and walking around in his tight underwear.

Konno’s solitude is not by choice. He previously had a relationship, but his boyfriend transitioned to a woman and their romance failed to sustain. Since then, Konno couldn’t meet anyone new, especially not in a dead-end warehouse job, made worse by his bashful personality. Without any ambition to seek social connections, Konno seems resigned to a life of solitude. Or at least that was until Hiasa entered his life.

Hiasa is what some people might describe as a “user”. A manipulative man driven by self-interest, he preys on the weak and the vulnerable, hoping to take advantage of them. When they no longer have any use, Hiasa would cut them out of his life. Konno’s loneliness, desperation, and naivete make him the perfect target for Hiasa. Thus began an unhealthy relationship between the movie’s two main characters.

Hiasa’s friendship
Hiasa starts hanging out with Konno.

Hiasa started hanging out around Konno, probably because nobody else was around his age in the warehouse. Due to his lack of options, Konno became his buddy as a last resort. However, Hiasa didn’t value this friendship, as demonstrated when he quit work without even informing him. Hiasa only used Konno to feel less lonely in a tedious job, not because he cared about making friends.

Later, Hiasa moved on to a bigger and better job, leaving Konno in the dust. If Hiasa was in any other line of work, the two might have never reacquainted again. However, his new insurance career means that he needs lots of connections. As Hiasa goes through his old contacts list, he must have identified Konno as an easy target. Hiasa could make a profit off his sad and lonely acquaintance.

However, Hiasa wasn’t aggressive and didn’t approach him with the insurance package right away. He took the time to befriend Konno again, hardly bringing up the insurance sales. Konno was so grateful to have a friend again that he didn’t even question why Hiasa left him in the first place. They restored their friendship as normal, until Hiasa deemed their bond is strong enough and it was the right time to strike.

Grooming Konno
Konno stares grimly at the bonfire.

The turning point in the story is when Hiasa asks Konno to purchase an insurance package from him. Up until that point, Konno gave him the benefit of the doubt, believing they formed a trustworthy friendship. However, he couldn’t shake off the suspicion that Hiasa was taking advantage of him, mainly to get a new customer.

When Hiasa made that allegory about ~grooming~ a fire, it made Konno realize that’s how his so-called friend perceived him. In the same way that he’d build up a flame, Hiasa has slowly nurtured his friendship with Konno until it was time to profit off him. Once Konno saw the parallels between the fire and himself, he recognized Hiasa’s self-serving mentality. He got angry, refusing to engage in this friendship anymore. After a frosty exchange, Hiasa warns Konno about not knowing the real him that lay beneath the shadows.

This tense conversation was the last time Konno and Hiasa interacted. Months pass by and Konno returns to his lonely life of solitude again. After learning of Hiasa’s disappearance, Konno becomes curious about his ex-friend. He goes on a deep investigation, trying to learn more about this mysterious man’s life. He wants to clarify whether their friendship had been genuine or not. Did Konno make the wrong assumptions? Was there actually more to Hiasa beneath the shadows?

Romance review

Almost no romance
Konno's ex transitioned into a woman.

On the romantic front, there’s almost nothing to report between Konno and Hisai. If you’re watching Beneath the Shadow in anticipation of an angsty romance, you won’t be satisfied. Their only moment of intimacy was an unexpected kiss, which got promptly rejected by Hiasa. Otherwise, their relationship is strictly platonic, even though Konno spends most of the movie pining after his friend in a one-sided unreciprocated crush.

However, there is an interesting moment between Konno and his ex, a trans woman who recently transitioned. A lot about their past relationship is left unspoken, only implied through wistful glances and meaningful silences between them. Was Konno still hung up on his ex? How long were they dating? Is she the reason why Konno lacks the drive to meet people and find a new relationship?

I have many questions about the ex character, who only appeared in a short part of the movie, yet she offered so much insight into Konno’s past. You can come to your own conclusion about the history they shared and why their romance came to an end. The final hug between them is poignant, one that is full of feeling and melancholy.

Konno’s ex
Konno and his ex are no longer together.

Although Konno and his ex maintained an amicable relationship after their breakup, they aren’t close enough to open up to each other. During their scenes together, you can feel some apprehension and distance between them.

Notice how Konno hasn’t brought up any mentions of Hiasa to his ex. From that reference point, we can surmise Konno didn’t trust her enough to confide in his deepest secrets with his ex. Ironically, the two characters met because they wanted to catch up. However, the ex didn’t actually find out what had been happening with Konno’s life.

I can understand why Konno wouldn’t want to bring up Hiasa to his ex, out of awkwardness and embarrassment. However, she was one of the few people in his life who seemed to genuinely care about him. It’s a shame they didn’t have a closer relationship. Konno really needed a loyal friend during this period of heartbreak and confusion.

Acting review

Good acting
Konno is a sensitive soul with an empathetic personality.

Both actors do a splendid job in this movie. Their performances are low-key with subdued emotions. I really liked Konno’s actor (Go Ayano) and thought he portrayed his introverted character sensitively. He’s cast well in this role, capturing the essence of Konno perfectly. I can feel the melancholy emanating from him in every scene.

The other lead (Ryuhei Matsuda) is terrific as well. He exudes the right mix of charm and sleaziness that makes his character feel morally ambiguous. He makes Hiasa seem appropriately slick and slippery, but hides it well enough beneath a charismatic facade.

Ending review

Bittersweet ending
Konno meets a new boyfriend at the end of Beneath the Shadow.

Although Beneath the Shadow is an overwhelmingly sad movie, there’s a happier conclusion. Years later, Konno has found a new boyfriend, a young and energetic guy who accompanies him on fishing trips. With his new boyfriend, Konno seems happier than we last saw him. He’s smiling and looking relaxed.

I thought Konno would end up growing old and alone, like that old lady who lived above him in the apartment. It was a pleasant surprise to see him with a partner who enjoyed his company. We don’t know the specifics of their relationship, but at least it seems like Konno isn’t completely lonely anymore.

Konno’s letter
Konno finds out Hiasa purchased the wedding services for him.

In the scenes leading up to the ending, Konno visited Hiasa’s brother and father. Both confirm that Hiasa has a long history of sketchy behaviour. Their testimonies validated Konno’s worst fears that his friend was simply a con artist. Still, he dug deeper into Hiasa’s life, hoping to find any contrary sign that indicated otherwise. Konno wanted so badly to believe there was light beneath the shadow, a genuine side to Hiasa that only he saw during their time together.

The most condemning evidence came when Konno reviewed the insurance package that he purchased. Without informing him, Hiasa upgraded Konno’s insurance to include wedding services. Hiasa knew his friend was gay, single, and would never get married. Yet, he still signed up for the wedding package to extract extra money from Konno.

Finally, Konno breaks down in hysterical tears. All this time, he has refused to accept that Hiasa wasn’t authentic with his friendship. He still clung to a false belief, even after talking with Hiasa’s family. Reviewing the insurance package was the last straw that made him lose any remaining hope. Faced with undeniable proof, Konno accepts that Hiasa was never his friend and only used him for selfish gain. What laid beneath the shadow was only more darkness, revealing their friendship was a fraud.

Ending explained
Konno sees Hiasa staring back at him during the Beneath the Shadow ending.

Years later, Konno is seemingly happier with a new relationship. In the final scene, Konno goes fishing by the lake with his boyfriend. Suddenly, he sees Hiasa staring back at him on the other side. A distracted Konno looks away for a second, and the image of Hiasa is gone again. As Konno spends the rest of the afternoon fishing, he continues to glance at that exact location, deep in pensive thought.

Obviously, that’s not the real Hiasa, who disappeared and died during the earthquake years ago. However, the fact that Konno sees an illusion of him is troubling. It’s a bittersweet ending that indicates Konno might still have lingering thoughts about Hiasa, even after all this time.

Although his new relationship seems idyllic, Konno hasn’t fully moved on from Hiasa yet. No matter how much time has passed, he can’t find closure to this chapter of his life. Hiasa haunts him to this day, appearing in his thoughts without notice, like a shadow that can never go away.

Beneath the Shadow Online

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