Ryutaro is a mechanic working at a quiet, run-down garage. While his co-workers joke about girls and invite him to bars, Ryutaro seems to cast a melancholy shadow over proceedings, with a solemn look in his eyes. He goes to visit a friend’s mother who is sick and who he previously had a close relationship with. We see Ryutaro at work, at home in his solitary apartment with beer and books for company, and out with friends, but everything seems to pass him by in a haze. Even his interactions with his girlfriend are stilted and lacking in passion. After speaking to his friend’s mother again we see that Ryutaro, far from being uncaring, is deeply distressed but seemingly unable to express this sorrow. His anger at his girlfriend, his colleague and later his father are all symptoms of this bottled up anxiety about the illness and inevitable death of this woman.
“Sweating the Small Stuff” is Ryutaro Ninomiya’s second feature film and it is an intensely personal work. Not only does he share his name with the main character, the dedication at the end of the movie to “Ryuko” makes clear that this is in part an autobiographical story. It is essentially a character study of himself as he deals with the grief of seeing someone he cares for slowly disappearing from his life. The dialogue is well written giving each of the characters a unique personality and realistic conversations. Utilising hand-held camera work helps give the film an intimate feel. There is some talented direction too, with the camera lingering as Ryutaro excuses himself from scenes evoking a sense of loss, seeing his reflection in a mirror, and the final scene caps off the film perfectly in its confrontational framing. The actors all give solid performances and feel realistic.
The film is a personal exploration of the theme of death and how this exposes the fragility of life. Ryutaro is clearly a man with a lot on his mind as his pensive expression and seeming lack of emotion make clear as the film progresses. It is hard to unpick exactly what is going on other than to say that he is a complex individual. In a couple of memorable scenes, between Ryutaro and Ryuko, Ryutaro and his friend, and Ryutaro and his father, we come close to understanding what it is that is troubling him.