Release Date: November 08th, 2019
Duration: 123 mins.
Director: Kazuya Shiraishi
Writer: Izumi Takahashi (Screenplay), Yuko Kuwabara (Original Stage Play)
Starring: Takeru Satoh, Ryohei Suzuki, Mayu Matsuoka, Yuko Tanaka, Kuranosuke Sasaki, Mariko Tsutsumi, Hanae Kan, Megumi,
Director Kazuya Shiraishi chronicles the darker aspects of Japan with true-crime stories featuring outlaws like The Devil’s Path (2013) and Twisted Justice (2016) mixed with depictions of damaged everyday people on the outermost fringes of society like Dawn of the Felines (2017) and Birds Without Names (2018). For One Night, his first family drama, he adapts a stage play by Yuko Kuwabara but leans too far into crime territory late in the proceedings for an unsatisfactory ending.
The film opens on a stormy night at the Inamoto Taxi company which is located in some nondescript town. Koharu Inamoto (Yuko Tanaka) runs over her abusive husband in a taxi in an act to free herself and her three children from his merciless violence. After confessing what happened to her kids, all of whom bear the bruises of a beating, Koharu tells them, “Nobody will ever beat you again. You can live however you want.” Just before departing into the rain and darkness to give herself up to the police, she promises she will meet them again in the future.
Cut to 15 years later and we see that Koharu’s selfless act that was supposed to set her family free to pursue their dreams has trapped them in a vicious circle of shame and self-loathing that has made their lives nightmarish. Koharu discovers this bitter disappointment as she keeps her promise and returns to her children and the family business. Her presence forces everyone to confront the scars from their traumatic background, how the kids have inherited the sins of the mother by living in shame, and how this has all warped their personalities in various ways. These differences lead to multiple angles of conflict between characters we sympathise with due to their shared history and that provides ample drama which is excellently delivered by the cast.
Displaying various degrees of emotional damage and toxic masculinity are Koharu’s boys. Eldest son Daiki is a nebbish-looking guy who is struggling badly with a failing marriage and meeting masculine norms. The slicker younger son Yuji is a cynical journalist for a sleazy tabloid who senses he can turn his tragic past into a brighter future through writing about it, even if this betrays his family. Screen heartthrob Takeru Satoh plays the more showy character of Yuji with provoking sneers and condescension fit for his character. More conventional but really harrowing is the plight faced by Daiki. Ryohei Suzuki is very sympathetic playing the bespectacled guy unable to process what happened to them. He is all huddled and quiet with a downcast gaze and stutter due to a lack of confidence and a lot of shame. His constant avoidance of conflict leads to a shock later in the story as he he slips into violence in a way that reminds audiences that children learn from their parents.
More welcoming is Koharu’s daughter Sonoko played by Mayu Matsuoka, a much-needed ray of sunshine whose bright personality and hard-knock smile lights up the dark narrative. Having been forced to give up her ambitions to be a hairstylist, she works at a snack bar where she belts out karaoke tunes with glee and has a cynical view of men that she is unafraid to show. This motivates her to push back against her brother’s wayward feelings towards their mother.
Veteran actress Yuko Tanaka plays Koharu as a woman with mighty resolve and a humane nature who is resigned to enduring whatever hardship she faces for the good of her children. Naturally the audience will be with her and there is the expectation that she will right whatever wrongs that are going on, from saving Daiki’s marriage to coming to peace with with Yuji. Except it doesn’t quite work out so simply and seeing the family members navigate their sense of betrayal and try to overcome their traumas provides gripping material that the performances keep us invested in. Throw in an examination of how society ostracises those connected to crime, other characters around them struggling with issues like senile parents and wayward children and there is enough material here for a fine family drama that depicts the problems faced by modern families.
While the pieces are all there, the story loses its thread in the final third as if the writer Izumi Takahashi lacked an interest in realistically evolving the story and bringing the characters to a natural catharsis. Instead, a subplot involving Michio Doushita (Kuranosuke Sasaki) as a taxi driver whose criminal past catches up with him drives the action. While his plight makes an interesting parallel to Koharu’s, his story hijacks the film and takes away any agency from the mother and it leads to a contrived ending which foists an unbelievable connection between himself and the children, whom we never really see interact with him, just for the sake of a resolution.
One Night really starts off as a deep, dark, and very difficult performance-driven drama as we watch an excruciating reunion ripe for theatrics but everything is kept in check as the cast deliver some very fine and realistic portrayals showing the ways domestic violence can affect people. With a better ending, the emotional of sticking it out rewards would have been greater.
The technicals are all impressive enough and help transcend the film’s stage origins by taking advantage of the taxi company to get out of the single location so it never feels boring and there is a sense of place and time so that this feels rooted in reality.
My review for One Night first appeared on VCinema on September 01st.
7 thoughts on “One Night ひとよ Dir: Kazuya Shiraishi (2019)”
So… a little bit disappointed?
Shiraishi Kazuya is one of my favourite modern Japanese director but… I don’t know. I read the pitch of HITOYO, I watched the trailer and I told myself that it was not for me…
Recently I loved NAGI MACHI by Kazuya, but I found his comedy MAJHONG 2020 impossible to watch – I stopped after 20 minutes I guess. 0_o
I haven’t watched those two but I suspect he can be hit or miss. Your comments on those two films confirm my suspicion.
This one had the potential to tell a serious story, to give an interesting take on a subject – DV is horrendous and its effects not seriously approached in many films – but the plotting went out of the window when the yakuza storyline took over.
Still, he should be respected for attempting difficult stories and I will always check out a film of his.
Thanks for the comment!
I just watched it and it left me speechless. I think the movie has an enormous emotional strength. I was also stunned by the perfs, no one really has a lead, both in terms of screen time and acting skills, all the main characters are equally important. Most powerful drama I’ve watched in recent years…
…however I kind of agree with your point about the Doushita subplot, the embedding is a bit awkward and the ending could/should have been better. Nevermind, the movie is strong enough 🙂
I see your points and I agree about the strong performances but I wanted more from the story (maybe too much?). I thought it would be realistic and tackle difficult subject matter, and the performances indicated that it might, but I felt like the ending was a cop out. The mother was completely sidelined and had her agency taken away. But, like you said, it still has good drama in the build up.
Thanks for commenting!
Totally with you on this one. I tend to have a better evaluation of any work of arts (movies or books) after I give it some time to distance myself from the immediate impact it has, and while I enjoyed parts of One Night, a lot of it was forgettable. I couldn’t really pin down why, but it really might be what you said about the random taxi driver arc diluting the main story. Resolution really should have come from within the family not outside of. I also feel like with 3 kids, there was a lot to pack in here and maybe it would have fit better for a TV show with longer run time to resolve these issues. Ultimately it was very ambitious but fell short of its ambition.
The nature of the material and the cast gathered together demanded more than the melodramatic denouement even if it forces the kids to take on the role of saviours to present a solid reversal. It’s one of those times where more talking and understanding might have been more thrilling than a car chase.