The Day of Destruction 破壊の日 (2020) Dir: Toshiaki Toyoda

The Day of Destruction    The Day of Destruction Film Poster

破壊の日Hakai no Hi

Release Date: July 24th, 2020

Duration: 57 mins.

Director: Toshiaki Toyoda

Writer: Toshiaki Toyoda (Script),

Starring: Kiyohiko Shibukawa, MahiToThePeople (of the band GEZAN in his debut film role), Issey Ogata, Yosuke Kubozuka, Ryuhei Matsuda, Itsuki Nagasawa, Shima Onishi, Misa Wada,

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Released on July 24th, what would have been the opening day of the Tokyo 2020 Olympics, The Day of Destruction would have been a slice of counter-programming that rages against the ills of society while it basked in the aura of Olympic spectacle. Even in the absence of the games, the film still retains its power as a unique “state of the nation” address thanks to its director compiling issues into a unique story.

Toshiaki Toyoda has long made films about people on the fringes and struggling to find their way, criticising the state and its treatment of citizens. He himself has been subject to violations of his rights when he was arrested on suspicion of possessing a firearm and held without charge. It later turned out to be a family heirloom from World War II but the police turned it into a media spectacle. Japan continues to be rocked by numerous government corruption scandals, incompetent handling of Covid-19, and the silencing of political dissent by the increasingly fascistic LDP. It must feel that the country is on the highway to disaster and this film picks up on that sense of impending doom.

Deep in a mine somewhere in the countryside lurks a monster. A fleshy mass, this mysterious creature is a thing of nightmares and has been kept secret from all but those with the right connections such as a suave city slicker named Shinno (Ryuhei Matsuda). He gazes upon it, smirks and says, “one hell of a monstrosity has been born, huh?” This opening is highly atmospheric, a real horror kick, apocalyptic even. It is shot in black and white and has an aural soundscape of howling wind, blaring horns, and grating metal. No violence happens in this sequence and the rest of the film is in full of gorgeous colour, but the sense of tension generated remains throughout the film.

Flash forward seven years in the story and the atmosphere relaxes a little. Rumours of a “plague” linked to the nightmare creature have spread through the nearby town and an easy-going miner named Teppei (Kiyohiko Shibukawa) is our initial perspective into this crisis. He knew about the monster but did nothing and now witnesses scenes of random people struck by inexplicable mental and physical illnesses suddenly breaking scenes of normality and howling their fears and frustrations while flailing their limbs violently. 

Despite these occurrences, everyday life continues to wash over many in the community as they pursue their lives. This includes Teppei who persists in playing observer from the driver’s seat of his snazzy red Toyota Corona Mark Ⅱ (a pun for Covid-19?). The disappearance of his friend Kenichi (MahiToThePeople) prompts him to finally face the festering threat he ignored and the possible disintegration of society.

A young Shugendo practitioner, Kenichi has taken it upon himself to “exorcise the monsters lingering in the world” and is willing to risk his life as he transforms himself physically and spiritually to do it. The narrative shifts between the two friends, with the occasional flashbacks to help better define relationships, but Kenichi’s inner conflicts over his direction in life and his desire for change in the world are contrasted with Teppei’s apathy and this becomes a direct challenge to the audience.

The Day of Destruction Film Image 2

Kenichi’s struggle might feel overwhelming. After the intro, Toshiaki frames the plague as a manifold threat that afflicts society. Something born from greed, loss of contact with traditional values/humanity, and the blinding effects of consumerism, even Covid-19. The newly built Olympic stadium and screen-scarring industrial landscapes act as backdrops for discussions on social decay as well as symbolic representation of societal rot. Meanwhile, we hear how the ruling class, the politicians and businessmen, are safely ensconced in their countryside estates, abandoning people as the encroaching disaster comes.

And yet, Toshiaki doesn’t outright reject modernity, but critiques how new ways of living sans the spiritual and human connections have swept over the land and are the root cause of many problems. This is revealed by how he contrasts the aforementioned ugliness with the more traditional settings such as Kasosan Shrine, in Tochigi Prefecture and the surrounding verdant forest which exude the equanimity and spirituality in the land. I believe that Toshiaki suggests a synthesis of old and new to save society. This is seen in the location Miyamasu Mitake Shrine, which is in the heart of Shibuya and forms one of the final locations where what seems to be another hero (played by Yosuke Kubozuka) attends.

The need to re-route our consciousness into different ways of thinking is needed to avert a crisis and so, cast in a positive light are Kenichi’s Shugendo beliefs (a mixture of Shinto and Buddhism which was banned by the Meiji government during Japan’s process of modernisation) and (on a small scale) the scenes where characters harness the natural processes and spirituality found in the rural topographies. They further add to this sense that people need to revive old methods and abandon parasitic capitalism.

These ideas come amid a slow build-up of details and low-key sense of threat. As Kenichi experiences a spiritual awakening, a growing urgency comes in the rhythm of the film as scenes become shorter and more staccato-like and everything is accompanied with a searing progressive rock music scored by GEZAN, the band which MahiToThePeople is the front-man. The film leans into spectacle and really wows with cool imagery that is shown in abstract dreams such as where Kenichi is doused in blood/red paint and on the Shibuya scramble, something which has a sense of rebirth. 

The Day of Destruction 4

And so, despite the sense of impending disaster, The Day of Destruction ends on an urgent, even hopeful note as the audience is exhorted to do something and given inspiration. By coupling our perspective to Teppei and by showing us Kenichi’s growth, we are encouraged to awaken. At a time when the world has been wracked with months of the Covid-19 pandemic, people have risen up for global riots, and anti-racist protests and this film feels incredibly relevant and important. The stirring images and sounds make the audience feel the urgency to shake off their malaise and re-engage with life and, maybe, spark a world revolution to revive society.


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