Release Date: November 01st, 2013
Running Time: 38 mins.
Director: Koji Fukada
Writer: Koji Fukada (Screenplay),
Starring: Hiroaki Matsuda, Ami Kurata, Yui Ito, Koji Nishida, Minami Inoue,
Koji Fukada is regarded as one of the leading lights of Japanese cinema and he is someone who I have covered on this blog, from his opener Human Comedy Tokyo (2008) to his Cannes award-winner Harmonium (2016) and other titles. He has the ability to tackle subtle elements in human relationships with black humour and seriousness as well as a light touch. Inabe stands as one of my favourites because of its simplicity and earnestness but more is lurking underneath the honest emotions shared between two siblings who are reunited after years apart.
Tomohiro (Hiroaki Matsuda) is a 30-something guy who hasn’t seen his older sister Naoko (Ami Kurata) in 17 years. He is surprised and suspicious when she returns to their hometown of Inabe with a baby, her son Naoki. Their meeting is out of the blue. She steps off a train, walks to the pig farm he works at, and waits for him to clock off. Initially awkward, they talk as they head to the family home where Naoko reintroduces herself to relatives and soon she is digging into Tomohiro’s current marital woes. This digging gets deeper and more personal as the two wander around childhood haunts.
As we are led through Inabe’s landscape we venture through their memories and we get to hear what has passed between them over the years. A sense of time lost is evoked but also the feeling that they have regained a connection to a precious person as they share thoughts, feelings and space with each other after a long absence.
The writing and acting is majestic as they slip back into an easy relationship but one burdened with the responsibilities and disappointments of adulthood. At times, their movement traces actions and behaviour they performed during their teen years, but with none of the verve of youth, while their dialogue is an exchange of memories, but dense with a mixture of emotion they feel now: sentimentality, regret, and curiosity as to how their lives have diverged from what they expected.
Then, along their perambulation, there is a poetic image of a waterfall where the water flows backwards. It is a strange moment, accompanied by a strange musical motif in a film that is firmly realistic in style. Despite its strangeness, it fits, not least because the characters seem unphased by it and the sight of water returning to its source fits the themes of the passing of time and the return to family. It also allows the atmosphere to become ethereal for the last third of the film. There are numerous tells as to what will happen that jump out in the subject of the dialogue and the props in earlier scenes and they come thick and fast in subsequent re-watches but that first viewing is all mystery that is played lightly.
A key idea is brought up and acted out by Naoko is that of asymptotic lines and it is applicable to this film where Naoko never lets her reasons for returning home out of the bag (and I’ve tried to avoid it here) so, beneath the smiles and sighs, a moving story of reconnection builds and it results in a bittersweet ending that caps a perfectly shot and acted film.
Fukada achieves an atmosphere of melancholy through the simple nature of the story and location, the rekindling of a relationship between the brother and sister, the sense of time and people lost, the peaceful but sad atmosphere of a sparsely populated rural area and the muted colours of the beautiful autumnal landscape with its fields and forests framed by mountains, where perfectly sculpted paths wending through hills and the winding roads lead away from the family home. The film made me feel that the landscape of Inabe is beautiful and haunting while the concept of family is warm and precious. Everything is perfectly framed and the acting is moving and this makes Inabe a film I can watch again and again.
I have written about this short three times but only in terms of previews, once in 2014 and again in 2018 when it was shown as part of a film festival dedicated to screening the works of Koji Fukada and now for We Are One Global Film Festival‘s screening which is how I have finally seen it. I have remembered Inabe since first writing about it and really appreciated getting the chance to see this film.