The Tokyo Night Sky is Always the Densest Shade of Blue
夜空はいつでも最高密度の青色だ 「Yozora wa Itsudemo Saiko Mitsudo no Aoiro da」
Running Time: 108 mins.
Director: Yuya Ishii
Writer: Yuya Ishii (Screenplay), Tahi Saihate (Original Poet)
Starring: Shizuka Ishibashi, Sosuke Ikematsu, Ryo Sato, Takahiro Miura, Mikako Ichikawa, Ryuhei Matsuda, Paul Magsalin, Tetsushi Tanaka,
Yuya Ishii has gone from indie kid to director of award-winning adaptations of major books with films like Sawako Decides (2010), A Man with Style (2011), Mitsuko Delivers (2012), The Great Passage (2013). Despite the growth in projects, he has kept looking directly at his characters and in his incisive looks at human nature he spots the oddities and uniqueness of everyone regardless of the story and gets the actors to perform perfectly.
Here, he works with newbie actor Shizuka Ishibashi (later to star in Parks) and pairs her up with the more experienced Sosuke Ikematsu (How Selfish I Am!) and Ryuhei Matsuda (Nightmare Detective, My Little Sweet Pea) who was the lead in The Great Passage. The actors all portray characters caught up in the whirlwind world of Tokyo, a place which is fearsome or fantastically rewarding depending upon a person’s perspective. Film festival synopses paint the characters as alienated, stressed, and looking for relief from the everyday grind making the film sound grimdark. Far from being a miserable time, The Tokyo Night Sky is Always the Densest Shade of Blue is a tribute to the magic of Tokyo and the people living in it. It exhorts its audience to seize life and appreciate all the small blessings and all the positives, to work hard no matter the good times and bad times and embrace the people who offer love.
The story follows two people, both of whom consider themselves outsiders. Mika (Shizuka Ishibashi) works as a nurse by day; by night she works as a bartender in a girls’ bar. Having recently broken up with her boyfriend and lost her mother, she walks the streets of Tokyo and ponders on what she sees as the meaningless of life as she sees death too often. Her narration throughout the film reveals a woman full of doubt and even the beginnings of despair. When walking around the streets of Shibuya and Shinjuku she spots lovers out together and she asks, “Don’t they know that they will get abandoned.” When she travels back to her rural home town to see her sister and father, we understand how much of an impact various events have had as she questions her widower father about her mother and she disparages her lively sister who is madly in love with a classmate.
Shinji (Sosuke Ikematsu) is blind in one eye and ekes out a living as a day-worker on construction sites. Manically talkative, he accepts the label of being “weird” in order to cover up a deep sense of alienation. Ikematsu’s superlative performance includes a body constantly moving, a mouth operating at a million miles an hour and his left eye half-closed in close-ups. His friends are a Filipino named Andres (Pail Magsign), Tomoyuki (Ryuhei Matsuda) and Iwashita (Tetsushi Tanaka), a middle-aged guy in deteriorating physical condition.
Mika and Shinji’s lives run parallel in this narrative. We see them take their breaks at the same time and working hard, we see their personal lives, their former and potential lovers, their homes and their neighbours. Despite both having a loose string of friends amongst their co-workers, they both lead a lonely existence but somehow their paths keep miraculously crossing under the Tokyo sky. Girls bars, suicides, funerals, emergency hospital visits until, finally, they decide to make a connection despite the negativity that they feel surrounds them. They aren’t the only ones as other characters live to the fullest of their potential and keep striving for love and happiness. At no point is it miserable, melodramatic, maudlin, or maddening.
Director Yuya Ishii uses a multitude of visual and aural techniques to show characters lost in their own world. The sound drops out so all we can hear is the breathing of Mika or Shinji crunching on snacks, split-screen separates characters inhabiting the same space, extreme close-ups on features show Mika’s lips pursed together in frustration, Shinji’s left eye half-closed and in the next shot, the half of the screen is backed out creating unique visual. Despite the negativity in the narrative, the film is far from heavy because Yuya Ishii brings the same amount of visual invention to show the beauty of the city and the lives of the characters to show them breaking free while giving the film a sprightly feel. On-screen text showing Shinji’s thoughts on earthquakes and the cost of bills are done in a cute font in against the night sky while Mika has dreams that are animated sequences. Tokyo is a hive of activity and the crowded streets and stations burst with life. The artificial lights of the city flare brightly and in one beautiful scene, the ash of Shinji’s cigarette turns into city lights. What about that dense blue sky? It happens one night, and it’s also beautiful. There’s a gentle melody played by piano and guitar can be heard throughout the film bringing calmness to proceedings and at key points, something more forceful – Slow motion, the same woman (Yoshimi Nozaki) singing the same song in the streets of Tokyo, “We’re all the same, this is Tokyo, right? Go for it!”
It is hard not to feel energised at the end.
The film captures living in the metropolis and offers a message of hope to a wide audience. through seeing the miracle of two odd souls mirroring each other becoming connected because of all the drama that brings them together. Whatever the doubts they have, when the film ends, you get the sense that they are going to be okay and so are we if we keep trying. Coincidence or fate, they have made a deep connection and that is the best thing that can happen between people. Who knows who we will meet.
So, Mika and Shinji, treasure each other and work hard!