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Saturday, April 13, 2024

A compelling satire on the state of Nigeria

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Movie title: Japa!

Release date: 8 March

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Running time: 1 hour 42 minutes

Director: Isioma Osage

Cast: Jidekene Achufusi, Layi Wasabi, Blossom Chukwujekwu, Seun Ajayi, Adesua Etomi-Wellington, and Mofe Duncan.

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Japa has become a terminology that resonates well with several Nigerians.

Japa, a Yoruba word meaning “run” or “flee,” has become synonymous with the exodus of Nigerians seeking better opportunities abroad.

The harsh economic realities, persistent insecurity, and rampant corruption have driven many to seek greener pastures elsewhere. Now more than ever, many Nigerians are leaving the country, Japa!

In a 2022 survey conducted by the Africa Polling Institute, 69 per cent of Nigerians expressed their willingness to relocate abroad with their families if presented with the opportunity.

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This figure starkly contrasts with the 39 per cent recorded in 2019, and it has become the reality of present-day Nigeria.

In capturing this reality, Isioma Osaje’s debut feature film, ‘Japa!’, attempts to showcase the exodus experiences of many Nigerians with a little tweak in the narrative from what everyone might be expecting.

‘Japa!’ focuses on the tale of Mezu, a classroom teacher who was set to leave Nigeria for greener pastures in the United States, but the day he should make his trip turned his life around, but this time not for good.

But how can he travel beyond the country’s shores when he is trapped in time, repeating the same day every day? He’s in a time loop.

A time loop is a scenario where a period is repeated, sometimes multiple times, trapping characters in a cycle of repetition. Imagine living through the same events over and over again.

Before “Japa!” hit streaming platforms, time loop narratives were a rarity in Nollywood.

Few Nollywood sci-fi movies exist on streaming platforms, save for the 2021 movie ‘Day of Destiny’ and most recently ‘Japa!’.

Plot

The film tells the story of Mezu, a determined teacher eager to “japa” or immigrate from Nigeria, as he connects with fellow aspiring emigrants in a group called the ‘Japa network’ during late-night IELTS (International English Language Testing System) exam prep classes.

With his travel plans approved and his departure imminent, Mezu sells his car to boost his finances, only to be robbed shortly after.

Desperate for funds, he takes a last-minute job as an exam invigilator. When he discovers charity funds in the possession of his friend Kamsi, Mezu steals the money and boards his flight as planned.

However, his journey takes an unexpected turn when he awakens mid-flight to find himself back in bed, trapped in a time loop, reliving the same day in Nigeria repeatedly.

Each repetition offers Mezu new insights, such as identifying the culprit behind his robbery.

Armed with this knowledge, he must persuade his fellow ‘Japa network’ members to help him find a way out of the loop if such an escape is possible.

Character Analysis

The film boasts a talented cast, including Jidekene Achufusi, Layi Wasabi, Blossom Chukwujekwu, Seun Ajayi, Adesua Etomi-Wellington, and Mofe Duncan.

Achufusi shines as Mezu, the central character, while Etomi-Wellington delivers a captivating performance as Kamsi, Mezu’s colleague trapped in the time loop alongside him. Wasabi, Chukwujekwu, and Ajayi portray Wasiu, Tobe, and Sola, respectively, forming the close-knit “Japa network.”

These friends share a bond forged through their desire to leave Nigeria, meeting during IELTS preparations.

Each character faces struggles: Wasiu’s deportation from Libya, Sola’s French exam failures, and Tobe’s sacrifice of sending his family to Australia before himself.

Their camaraderie on-screen offers relatability and comic relief, reflecting the everyday struggles of Nigerians seeking opportunities abroad.

Mezu and Kamsi’s relationship adds depth to the narrative, portraying a blended love and friendship that resonates emotionally. Achufusi and Etomi-Wellington’s performances beautifully capture this dynamic.

In contrast, Duncan’s portrayal of Zino, the antagonist, may not be lengthy, but his presence significantly impacts the story’s progression, adding tension and intrigue to the plot.

Movie Review

“Japa!” is a thought-provoking film that intricately weaves elements of allegory, moral philosophy, and societal commentary yet ultimately falls short of delivering a cohesive narrative.

The movie is a brilliant attempt at a contemporary time loop narrative, which harnesses talents, storytelling and technical advancement to create a unified whole, a welcome development in Nollywood.

Time loop narrative is not your regular Nollywood genre of movie, but this movie ingeniously blends the concept with the contemporary issue of mass migration in Nigeria.

It becomes a satire of the society that while one would wish to leave the country, he is retrained to stay back against his wish to make the society better.

The narrative builds on the chronological developments of scenarios, giving the audience a better understanding of the character’s evolutions. However, it falls into the pitfall of predictability.

Set against Nigeria’s economic struggles, the story follows Mezu and Kamsi, whose entrapment in a time loop is attributed to the violation of secret dictates within Igbo moral philosophy, known as ‘Omenala’.

While the film effectively raises questions about morality and societal expectations, its exploration of restoring Omenala feels muddled, with repeated references lacking clarity.

Moreover, the affixation of indigenous philosophy as ‘Omenala’ and the time loop concept was a good attempt but lacked coherence.

However, despite its ambitious themes, “Japa!” fails to engage with the complexities of its allegorical narrative fully.

It leaves audiences grappling with unanswered questions and philosophical musings about the nature of reality it presents.

Verdict

7/ 10

Japa Official Trailer

Japa is currently streaming on Amazon Prime Video

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