Ice Cream and the Sound of Raindrops
Running Time: 74 mins.
Release Date: 2018
Director: Daigo Matsui
Writer: Daigo Matsui (Screenplay),
Starring: Kokoro Morita, Taketo Tanaka, Reiko Tanaka, Guama, Yuzu Aoki, Jotaro Tozuka, Kazumasa Kadoi, Mimori Wakasugi, Momoha,
Daigo Matsui is famous as a director who has worked on mostly youth-oriented movies like Afro Tanaka (2012), Sweet Poolside (2014), How Selfish I Am! (2013) and Japanese Girls Never Die (2016) but did you know he is a former manzai performer and has his own theatre company? Matsui takes on the theatre world here with an adaptation of British playwright Simon Stephens’s coming-of-age drama “Morning”. However, instead of simply recording a performance to screen in cinemas, we are delivered into how the original story is translated into a Japanese setting and how universal its message of teenage angst is. What plugs us into this creative space and new and unique understanding of the text is that the film is done in a flawless 74-minute take that gets behind the scenes of the play and shows all the pressures and risks for the actors involved in bringing their roles to life.
In 2017, a stage performance of “Morning” is scheduled to run in a small town. It is a savage play that has been attracting attention in the theatre world for its story of a violent act by two best friends fighting through a rough adolescence. The film starts a month before the opening night. A cast of six young actors are being pushed to their limit by a director who gives out abstract plans and demanding instructions:
“I want to show you all really living on the stage.”
“Be messy and raw.”
The actors are really trying, none more so than the lead Kokoro (Kokoro Morita), but a week before they make their debut, the performance is suddenly cancelled by their producer who cites poor ticket sales and a lack of faith in the performers. Despite this betrayal and already being invested in the process, Kokoro suggests to the rest of the cast that they continue rehearsing and as they struggle through rehearsals, the parallels between the performers and their characters are brought to the fore and the actors reach a sort of performance epiphany by committing their own act of “violence” against society by defying their producer and putting on the play.
The film is very meta, starting from the fact that the actors are essentially playing themselves and are in a story where of a month’s worth of the rehearsal process is captured in a single 74-minute shot.
Time flows by thanks to a number of simple techniques. The camera, handheld, follows Kokoro everywhere, from the rehearsal space to surrounding streets and a theatre, without a break. There are no scene transitions. Instead, for example, the camera will go for a close-up on Kokoro’s face to allow actors in the background to change positions. Simply covering up windows with curtains produces the darkness of nighttime and heading into the makeup room can initiate a new day. On-screen text is the only chronological marker for the countdown to their stage debut although the sound of raindrops is almost continuous.
As time flows, reality and fiction inhabit the same space. This reflects the actor’s finding their experiences mixing with the play as they begin to inhabit their characters. The film will smoothly segue from the performer’s reality into a renditions of pivotal scenes from the play with nothing but a simple change in aspect ratio telling us the difference. Through seeing how the text of the play is matched with the experiences of the cast who are invested in their roles, we see the synthesis of an actor’s interpretation which ironically delivers what the director was demanding from them all along – bringing their lives to the stage.
The actors seem to capture the spirit of the play, the confusion and rage of youth in the face of the low expectations given to them by their environment, and we watch as the actors struggle against their situation. They all deliver their roles with honesty and, by having everything shot in one take, we get rolled up in different layers of drama and so we gradually feel, much like the actors, that the only logical act that can be committed by them is to “rebel” against the instructions of their seniors and put on the play.
With Kokoro Morita being the focus of the film, she pulls out the most intense performance of the group as she embodies her character. She also brings the wider feeling of confused rage and suffocation felt by young people teetering on the edge of nihilism and desperately hoping to be saved or struggling to escape. The themes are also underlined by the music of the film which is played live by the rap group MOROHA. They act as a sort of Greek chorus to summarise the frustrations and desires of the performers. They and Kokoro break the fourth wall by addressing the audience with some direct to camera moments where their passionate lines make us think about the struggles that the actors, and by extension, young people go through. It doesn’t break our immersion as we are swept along by the one-take premise as we watch Kokoro and the cast create their own version of the play. The end result is a unique and engaging coming-of-age film.
“Film is truth 24 times a second and every cut is a lie”, Jean-Luc Godard said. Ice Cream and the Sound of Raindrops shows this as it creates a mesmerising experience free of edits that pushes the actors involved into incredible feats of performance and timing as they bring a month’s worth of drama to life in one single 74-minute take. It creates a heartfelt cry of youth by allowing audiences to take part in the creative process as we see how the actors search their feelings and become one with their characters and we share in their emotions because we have been with them without interruption.