Japanese Title: みなさん、さようなら
Romaji: Minasan, Sayonara
Release Date: January 26th 2013 (Japan)
UK Release Date: October 14th, 2013
UK Distributor: Third Window Films
Running Time: 120 mins.
Director: Yoshihiro Nakamura
Writer: Tamio Hayashi, Yoshihiro Nakamura (Screenplay), Takehiko Kubodera (Original Novel),
Starring: Gaku Hamada, Kana Kurashina, Kento Nagayama, Kei Tanaka, Nene Otsuka, Bengal, Haru
Satoru Watari (Hamada) lives in a danchi. Danchi’s are a large cluster of public buildings thrown up from the 50’s to the 70’s to address the housing demands of the post-war baby-boomers. These places are like a little world unto themselves with their own shops that serve the attendant community.
After graduating from elementary school Satoru tells his mother Hinagu (Otsuka) that he has decided to stay in the danchi for the rest of his life.
True to his word he stays at home. As the years pass and his former classmates leave the danchi to attend schools outside the area, Satoru institutes a schedule of day-to-day activities starting in the morning with breakfast, chores, exercises, martial arts training and ending at night with a patrol checking on all of the apartments to make sure everyone living in the danchi is safe.
Some regard Satoru’s behaviour as strange but for the most part he is left to act like a warden protecting kids like Noriaki (Nagayama) who is mercilessly bullied at school. At the age of sixteen, Satoru gets a job in a cake shop in the danchi and finds a girlfriend in Saki Ogata (Kurashina), a beautiful girl who says she wants to stay there but as time slips by more and more of Satoru’s classmates leave the complex to make new lives for themselves. Even with the support of Saki, will Satoru be able to leave projects someday?
Through following Satoru’s choice of remaining in the danchi over the course of twenty years, Nakamura thoroughly explores a slice of Japanese history and social changes in a location that is constantly a location in Japanese films.
As great as that sounds, despite filming in a confined location it is never really brought to life and it remained as anonymous, depopulated and dull as a tower block in a Kiyoshi Kurosawa film and that’s no good thing in this case. When I think of a film with a similar environment like Clockers (Spike Lee, 1997) I remember it brought a wealth of well sketched characters in a pungent hot-house atmosphere that was affecting and detailed enough to be evocative. This film felt inert. In trying to build up a psychological picture of Satoru, this film focusses a lot on him at the expense of everybody and everything else. Without the details and people, I did not feel the nostalgia that Nakamura was aiming for in recreating danchi life.
Part of the problem was the script. While unpredictable it was rather dull. Even more problematic was the fact that the catalyst for Satoru’s crisis was not revealed early enough which lead my perceptions too far in the wrong direction for the rest of the film to totally work. I took Satoru’s behaviour at face value and his actions were so weird I found it hard to empathise with him as a character. When he explained his reasons for staying in the danchi to a stranger she replied, “If you’ve clung onto that you’ve got to be sick.” I had to agree. With all of the focus on Hamada’s performance the film lived and died on it but I never warmed to him which meant I was distanced from the film. Couple this with the flat atmosphere and dry comedy that did not quite work for me and the film felt like its full two hour length which seemed to drag on as things kept getting added like the appearance of migrants from Brazil. While it is an admirable attempt to address the social changes in Japan I would have preferred it was cut out altogether. Actually, I would have preferred a film that provided greater focus on the characters around Satoru and their attempts at trying to get him out of the place. It would have been more believable and added detail.
The greatest emotional impact for me came right at the end when Sataru understood why his mother tolerated his behaviour. She pretty much disappears from the film halfway through but when we see things from her viewpoint in a flashback sequence it made me feel more emotion than the preceding 90+ minutes.
Yoshihiro Nakamura’s film The Foreign Duck, the Native Duck & God in a Coin Locker genuinely surprised me by wrapping up an emotional story of human connection and loss in what at first seemed like a gentle off-beat comedy. Nakamura tries a similar thing here for a story of an existential crisis that forces a boy to retreat into the safety of his housing complex but does not quite pull it off because the main protagonist is hard to relate to and thanks to the script delaying key information. By the time we get to the revelation it is hard to sympathise with Satoru and I felt the attempts to wrap up the plot threads and characters arcs neatly dragged on too long. Perhaps I missed something or I am being overly critical because other, better film reviewers have praised this, but for me the film did not work which is a shame.
2.5/5 (and it only scored that high because of the gorgeous Nene Otsuka)