Looking for my lost sunflowers
あの、ヒマワリを探しに 「Ano, himawari wo sagashi ni」
Running Time: 25 mins.
Release Date: June 2014
Director: Noriko Yuasa
Writer: Noriko Yuasa, Kotaro Ishido (Screenplay),
Starring: Bunki Sugiura, Koudai Yamaguchi, Cocoro Ikeda, Eiko Kutsuma, Hioruki Shigeta
Noriko Yuasa wowed me earlier this year at the Osaka Asian Film Festival with her short film Ordinary Everyday (2017) which was a showcased her fantastic mastery of aural and visual techniques in the creation of a highly atmospheric psycho-thriller. Her earlier films show the same control of texture and form as well as story. With Looking for my lost sunflowers, Yuasa dives into one man’s nostalgia as an office drone tries to touch distant memories.
The man whose nostalgia we embrace is Murakami (Bunki Sugiura), a thirty-something who works as a salesman for a pharmaceutical company in Tokyo. As you can imagine his daily routine is work and then drinks after work. We meet him amidst a whirl of activity around what seems to be Shimbashi Station. The visuals are composed by Yuasa into a clamorous and chaotic impressionistic swirl through slow-motion and blurred images of yokocho and main streets full of revellers and office staff who have spilled out of the workplace after office hours.
In some underground pub is Murakami with his boss and another colleague. The noise of revelry we heard outside continues but the film becomes more focussed. A medium shot shows us the men as they sit around a table. They drink and talk, talk and drink. With no food in sight, the alcohol goes to their heads quickly. Empty platitudes give way to melancholy as they recognise they have shed their youth. A further, bitter reminder is the fact that the pub is specialises in yearbooks from university and school alma maters and Murakami discovers one from his old high school. Written in its pages is a simple line:
“Do the sunflowers bloom in the courtyard, still?”
Murakami considers it then laughs it off as his drinking partners tease him for sentimentality but the line has a profound effect on the salaryman who finds himself in his home-town the next morning, unceremoniously dumped on the open platform of Nebukawa station.
Nebukawa is in Kanagawa Prefecture and, compared to where Murakami was the night before, it is a town in the middle of nowhere. The contrast couldn’t be greater. The night time atmosphere has given way to sunlit tranquillity. The town is placid and has a wonderful sea view. It is a fishing port with a bay where boats slide in and out and from the waterside extends the town into hills marked with narrow streets and climbing stairs with rough hewn steps. The noise of rowdy people gives way to the cry of seagulls and the gentle lapping of waves. The frantic editing slows so the scenes become longer. The odd mini-truck breaks these natural noises.
This break in atmosphere is a smooth transition, like the morning after a hectic night with none of the hangover that Murakami clearly feels as he staggers around Nebukawa looking like a refugee from Tokyo’s business world. He sees familiar faces and places while revisiting important sites from his memory: his family’s old neighbourhood, the family plot in the cemetery, his old high school. It is here that he comes face to face with whether the sunflowers still bloom and when we get to that point, after wandering around with him, we realise the strength of nostalgia. The memories of their colours and the act of rediscovering roots and planting new ones is like the pull of a safe harbour he has found after the rough seas of Tokyo and the sunflowers, like a collective light house, have guided him with their light. That light left an impression in his memory and those memories steady him and allow him a chance to recharge his energies.
Yuasa’s framing of the Nebukawa scenes gives the film a wistful air, a gentle nostalgia and happiness so we feel something of what Murakami does. The place is a safe haven after he has endured the tumult of a high-pressure lifestyle. Tokyo is a place where life can be intense. Long hours at work and getting lost in that metropolis where sensations are endless as seen in the hectic opening. It is both exhilarating and exhausting. The appeal of a quiet home town is strong but is it really Murakami?
Yuasa also addresses the problems inherent to memory which is they are distant and intangible, a past influenced by our present. Our histories are at best half-remembered. Murakami feels the pull of Nebukawa as he endures the hectic life of Tokyo and upon returning he finds the place feels like a time capsule. He understands that he cannot go back but he can now move forward with renewed strength. Immigrants to Tokyo will be able to understand that feeling. Anyone who has travelled will.