Keiko, Me wo Sumasete (Small, Slow but Steady)
Nobody can accuse Small, Slow but Steady of false advertising. It’s small in scale, while slowly but steadily hitting the required narrative beats en route to its conclusion – which is perfectly satisfactory, without quite plumbing the emotional depths that it was aiming for.
Keiko (Yukino Kishii) has sensorineural hearing loss, which is a total lack of hearing in both ears. She’s a boxer, although this only became possible when she found a gym that was willing to train her, after previous venues outright rejected her due to her disability. It’s pointed out that boxing can be a dangerous proposition for someone who can’t hear, when the referee’s instructions or the starting bell can easily be missed. As her athletic ambitions progress, Keiko’s gym faces imminent closure, leading the young boxer to question whether she’s still motivated to continue.
Director Shô Miyake’s even-handed film is inspired by the real life Keiko Ogawa, but this (fortunately) isn’t a biopic that has been given a conspicuous Hollywood-style treatment. There’s no saccharine, overt overcoming-the-odds messaging at play, no climactic fight to save the gym from closure. The film creates a gentle, softened atmosphere, and is stronger for it.
It’s really the smaller moments that resonate. Miyake has chosen to recognise the Covid-19 pandemic, rather than ignoring it or pretending it’s in the past, which seems to be the default choice of many recent productions. Face masks abound, and their inadvertent disservice to those with hearing loss is demonstrated, with Keiko being unable to lipread. There are lovely moments where the young woman’s trainer puts her through her paces, communicating without words, with the only sound being the dull thwack of boxing gloves. Keiko, those around her and (perhaps more importantly) the film itself do not treat her disability as a disadvantage or even something that must be examined beyond its acknowledgement. And this is, in a small, slow, and steady way, quite refreshing.
Keiko, Me wo Sumasete (Small, Slow but Steady) does not have a UK release date yet.
Read more reviews from our Berlin Film Festival 2022 coverage here.
For further information about the event visit the Berlin Film Festival website here.