Running Time: 129 mins.
Release Date: May 27th , 2017
Director: Naomi Kawase
Writer: Naomi Kawase (Screenplay),
Starring: Masatoshi Nagase, Ayame Misaki, Tatsuya Fuji, Chihiro Ohtsuka, Kazuko Shirakawa, Saori Koide, Nobumitsu Onishi, Mantaro Koichi,
Naomi Kawase is one of the “4 Ks”, directors who dominate contemporary Japanese cinema (the others are Kiyoshi Kurosawa, Kitano and Kore-eda) and she is a film-maker whose ability to capture sensual experiences makes for transcendent films. This is something which masks the slightness of some of her stories but at the same time it lends them more power. With Radiance she looks at the transcendent nature of film itself and she does so through the realm of using words.
Misako Ozaki (Ayame Misaki) is a woman who is involved in a project providing audio description for films for the visually impaired. She watches films and writes down the best way to describe scenes and characters and then presents them to a panel of people who critique her work so she can tweak it for a wider release. Masaya Nakamori (Masatoshi Nagase) is one of those people on the panel. He is a genius photographer and he has the harshest criticisms. The two initially don’t get on because Masaya has a cold attitude but when Misako sees a photograph of a sunset shot by him, she is inspired to look into Masaya’s life and discovers that he is losing his sight and their relationship changes as she gets to know him.
The film embarks on a road of a rocky relationship as Nagase’s prickly performance and husky voice makes Nakamori standoffish and dark and Misako tries to ride his moods. We can see why he is frustrated as there are scenes of him struggling with daily routines and hurting himself. We become aware that he has been just getting by, losing awareness of where he is and what he is surrounded by and things are getting worse. POV shots show his sight, his world, slowly becoming obscured and we taste the debilitating fear of losing sight through his accidents. Nagase’s performance in these scenes mixes hesitancy and bewilderment together effectively so we become aware of how perilous it is to lose sight and empathise.
As Misako finds out more about this, she learns about his work and we understand a little of the depth of his loss. For a talented intellectual to lose their vision, it must be like a hammer blow and we understand how, from the start, he is resistant to her for what he regards as pity. The one thing he hangs on to is the camera, and Nagase smiles proudly when using it, and this, as well as the job is what connects him to Misako.
Ayame Misaki, a rising actor who put in a good performance with Born Bone Born, brings a lot of nuance to her role as she goes from politeness to interest to hostile as Nakamori becomes quite an unpleasant character but her emotional journey goes beyond the simplest of emotions as she gains more experience in her role and realises pity and possibly more plays a part in increasingly passionate emotions as a subplot about missing and ill parents becomes intertwined with Nakamori’s background. I am not sure if I bought the formula that makes their chemistry work together but the wider story and her professional journey and maturation makes sense. In the end, it turns out that just as he is losing his sight, she is beginning to see and understand the whole process of writing for others. She gets better at her job and, more crucially, her positivity is the key to making him lighter again. And thus their character arcs come to rest at the same place quite neatly.
As a story, it is simple but shot with a lot of emotional awareness of the five senses. When we are with Nakamori, we are more aware of sounds like birds chirping, wind blowing, plastic bags rustling and creak of floorboards and rattling of sliding doors. It makes sense since his hearing would have sharpened with the loss of his vision. We get his POV which is partially obscured and close-ups on faces and extreme close-ups on eyes make us contemplate how we see the world. This, coupled with beautiful images and the passion people show on screen makes us appreciate what we see and the fact we see it and regard the world in a new way.
Isn’t the aim of cinema to connect you with other people’s lives?
Vocal descriptions help people who cannot see connect. Kawase’s use of visual and aural techniques make films that help us feel that connection all the more and that provides enough substance for this simple and beautiful story.