Japanese Title: さよなら渓谷
Romaji: Sayonara Keikoku
Release Date: June 22nd, 2013 (Japan)
Seen at the BFI London Film Festival 2013
Running Time: 117 mins.
Director: Tatsushi Omori
Writer: Shuichi Yoshida (Novel), Tatsushi Omori (Screenplay)
Starring: Yoko Maki, Shima Onishi, Nao Omori, Anne Suzuki, Arata, Hirofumi Arai, Mayu Tsuruta
SPOILER WARNINGS IN EFFECT I have done as much as possible to avoid major spoilers for this mystery drama, even going as far as altering plot synopses from older posts where I mention this film but there are still some spoilers. The official festival synopsis and trailers give a lot away but whether you know the twists or turns is pretty irrelevant because at its heart is a story about sexual violence and witnessing the suffering caused to characters is gruelling and quite affecting. It may be better to watch the film and come back if you are still interested.
A boy has been killed in a valley dense with trees and his mother, Satomi Tachibana, is the prime suspect. As the press besiege her house the police arrive to arrest her.
Meanwhile her neighbours, factory worker Shunsuke Ozaki (Onishi) and his wife Kanako (Maki), a convenience store worker, seem to be uninvolved. Apparently a happy couple, the two try their best to ignore the press and carry on with their lives.
As the police are investigating the murder rumours emerge that Satomi is romantically involved with Shunsuke Ozaki (Onishi).
Tabloid magazine reporter Watanabe (Omori) has been half-heartedly covering the case but when the new rumours emerge he is assigned by his editor to dig into Shunsuke’s background and discovers that he was once a star baseball player at university but was forced to quit due to murky circumstances.
As Watanabe continues to dig he finds that the truth, be it the connection Shunsuke has with Satomi or the facts in his past, are far more complicated than he could have ever expected.
Sex is a natural human function but when misused it can be a damaging experience. It can be a way of exerting power over others, humiliating and hurting others. It can scar a person for life. It can be a brutal crime. The issue at the heart of this film is a sex crime and its ramifications for those involved.
The Ravine of Goodbye is based on a story by Shuichi Yoshida, the man who wrote Villain and The Story of Yonosuke. The fact that a novel is its source can be sensed from the structure of the film, a fragmented story which has the through-line of an investigation conducted by a reporter who unearths different sources creating different perspectives on events. This means plenty of flashbacks which slowly fill in character details and the facts surrounding the mysterious crime.
Spoilers in the next paragraphs
The sex at the beginning of the film is disarming. The opening shots stick firmly to the two beautiful bodies of Yoko Maki and Shima Onishi in a darkened room during daylight hours. Curtains drawn, they engage in love making. Curves and flesh are shown interlocking in an act of pleasure and synchronicity. Nothing too rude or explicit since the natural lighting and respectful editing means that working parts are covered. This is erotic without being pornographic.
The actions are passionate and yet gentle and careful, respectful even. This is a healthy relationship especially in contrast to what comes later in the film. As Watanabe’s investigation into Shunsuke’s past slowly uncovers the truth we bear witness to a brutal act and the film becomes uncomfortable viewing for audiences, a harrowing tale of rape and its after effects. We witness the nightmare of male lust and callousness that targets those who are weaker, the masculine attitudes that allow these things to happen and the consequences that result in a nightmare ordeal for the victim as it then turns into a pretty thorough denunciation of societal attitudes to rape victims. Then what follows is a story of survivor and perpetrator guilt and a survivor’s vengeance which, quite frankly, is unexpected and tough.
Omori and Yoshida carefully pitch early scenes and characterisation to keep events and characters enigmatic as Watanabe circles around the truth. As he picks away at things we actually see Shunsuke’s crime, an awful moment that is not lingered on as the camera drifts away to a horrified witness. As bad as the situation is, worse things are in store for the victim. Through more flashback sequences we then see how the character’s lives fall apart. After surviving the traumatic experience the survivor finds herself a pariah due to the stigma attached to the crime. This initiates a downward slope of mistreatment, violence at the hands of men. The crime continues to rape her, so to speak, even though she tries her best to move away from it and it results in a shattered person on the verge of suicide.
Watanabe, an average guy looking into this, comes to understand the devastating impact of the crime on the victim. Perhaps he is analogous with the audience but every interview that Watanabe conducts comes after research and conversations around the issue of rape so we follow his gradual understanding. He finds out about the indifference some people hold and the differing levels of guilt or arrogance in the men who perpetrate these crimes and how they are able to move on with their lives while the victim suffers. This could be a ham-fisted diatribe against society and men but the script and direction and the acting are even-handed, nimble and believable enough to ensure that it is not the case. We get to meet men like the police who show their disgust at abusers but overall it creates feelings of anger, shame and anxiousness because things like this can happen.
This proves to be just the beginning of a strange and fascinating tale as a twisted and emotionally charged relationship between the victim and Shunsuke occurs as they find each other again. His guilt is a heavy burden and the victim’s anger is so great it renders her helpless to any feeling other than the desire to punish him. The film then turns into a scourging of the soul as emotions are explored and surprising twists occur and while some may have trouble with the end results I believed it. I believed the characters.
MILD SPOILER Throughout it all the film is beautiful. Just like the story structure and characters, things start back to front as we see the results of a thaw in the cold hard anger. It starts in the sticky summer months where sunlight scorches the dusty earth and people are damp with sweat and passion. The colours are bright, yellowing long grass, verdant green leaves and cool greys for water. For the flashback sequences the colours are slightly duller, a wintry tone is noticeable as people are stripped back to their raw emotions and worst aspects.
End of spoilers for now
Nao Omori plays the sad sack middle-aged staff reporter Watanabe skilfully. Essentially oblivious to a woman’s plight at the beginning, maybe even sceptical of victims due to bad relations with his wife and feeling the need to defend a fellow guy with a similar background in sports, the more he finds out about how rape could truly affect a person physically, mentally and societally and through conversations with a plucky young ambitious reporter (Suzuki), the more he seems to mature and grow wise on screen.
The relationship with Suzuki’s reporter is well played, sort of like a reminder to look at things with fresh eyes and not take gender roles for granted.
The real plaudits go to Yoko Maki and Shima Onishi who play their characters brilliantly.
Onishi plays his character placidly. Not given to opening up much, he only breaks after relentless questioning or when dealing with a man from a similar background. Apart from his wife Kanako, he seems to have little joy in his life and accepts this. One senses a bubbling guilt from his past that smothers his anger over his present troubles. His face plays these things out in very well ensuring we are never really certain how his past is linked to the Satomi case.
Maki as Kanako is fantastic. She handles lot of transformations through this film as her character reacts to Shunsuke’s past coming to light, revealing a depth of understanding and toughness.
Overall this is a thought provoking film. It actually made me want to hug those closest to me much like Watanabe. I was made aware of the fragility of normality and happiness and like the films Poetry, Bedevilled and I Saw the Devil, it made me angry at the way women could be mistreated. Because I wrote the plot synopsis for previews I knew some of the twists but that did not stop the atmosphere and characters getting me. It left me with a feeling of guilt over the way men could thoughtlessly treat women and anger that society could be so cruel to people. Not a fun watch but always beautiful, enigmatic and maybe a little hopeful. If people can survive horror then they can grow again and find happiness.
That was longer than expected. I’ve worked on this for a while so I’ll go away and re-read it because I need a clear head to see how cumbersome this review is. I get the feeling I really need to be more clear and concise with my reviews… Anyway, this was the fourth film I saw at the BFI London Film Festival and the second starring Yoko Maki after Like Father, Like Son. She’s a great actress I’m totally in love with her right now. Sorry, Kumiko Aso, you’ve been replaced as a favourite actress…