All the Things We Never Said
Release Date: October 03rd, 2020
Duration: 91 mins.
Director: Yuya Ishii
Writer: Yuya Ishii (Script),
Starring: Taiga Nakano, Yuko Oshima, Ryuya Wakaba, Park Jung-bum, Yuuno Ota, Miyu Yagyu, TOBI,
In 2019 the Hong Kong International Film Festival Society and China’s Heaven Pictures launched a pan-Asian project called B2B A Love Supreme wherein six Asian auteurs were tasked with going back to basics and making a feature on a limited budget of approximately US$145,000. The filmmakers selected included Tsai Ming-Liang from Taiwan, Chinese-Korean Zhang Lu and Japanese director Yuya Ishii who contributed All the Things We Never Said.
The title for Ishii’s story proves to be apt as this 90 minute film finds its dramatic fluctuations based on a cycle of escalating tragedies derived from various character’s inability to communicate what they truly feel to others. This is down to the fact that expressing ones emotions and risking breaking the peace of a situation is difficult in a Japanese situation where social equanimity and cohesion is prized.
The opening is anything but grim. Boundless optimism radiates from the screen as we gaze upon three high schoolers, two guitar-wielding boys and a girl, who amble along an open road on a balmy summer’s day. An upbeat song gives us the perfect accompaniment to these sun-kissed scenes that are familiar from countless seishun eiga and sappy romances. These are hopeful kids however, amidst all of their joy, seeds of disharmony are sown as they are caught in an unspoken love triangle that will have consequences well into adulthood.
When we next meet them they are still together but in their 30s. Two of the three, Atsuhisa (Taiga Nakano) and Natsumi (Yuko Oshima), have married and had a child, five-year-old daughter Suzu, while their mutual friend Takeda (Ryuya Wakaba) is on the periphery working as a repairman. It is clear that they have discarded any dreams of musical stardom and the drudge of domesticity has ground them down, especially Natsumi who has gone sour as revealed by her alternately waspish or distant attitude and her barely concealed contempt for a husband who quietly absorbs her negativity and seems unable to show emotion.
The breaking point for the trio comes quickly in the narrative when Atsuhisa leaves his clerical job early after feeling sick and stumbles home to find his wife with another man. Natsumi justifies this as the result of years of frustrations she has silently endured, especially Atsuhisa’s inability to declare his love for her. Implicit in her words is an ultimatum demanding that her husband say something or lose her but he cannot. They divorce and throughout their separation Atsuhisa holds his tongue, swallows his pride and meekly accepts Natsumi’s requests and we in the audience wonder why, as does the more free-speaking Natsumi and also Takeda, an honest friend who finds himself caught between the two as he watches the marriage fall apart.
Atsuhisa’s silence on the situation and whether he loves Natsumi or not propels the narrative as it drives her further from away from him and also affects others who try to reconfigure their relationships with the couple while also struggling to express themselves at the risk of upsetting their social bonds. Sometimes the pain of expressing oneself is too much, as exemplified by Atsuhisa and his brother, a tragically silent hikikomori. As characters reveal all of the things they felt they never could say previously, it leads to an already painful situation evolving in ways that will keep audiences feeling foreboding, frustration, and pity for characters.
Flashbacks shown piecemeal throughout the conflict give context and believably show many layers of people trying to communicate and failing. The problem is that to express love or any extreme emotions in a Japanese context is not so easy in reality and eventually we see this dynamic creates a chain of misfortune that stretches out from that scenic summer day seen at the start of the film until it encompasses instances of betrayal, mental health breakdown, and death further in the narrative. Crucially, it rings true in showing how people become alienated and how it can be difficult to communicate.
As dramatic as things get, it never feels contrived because these characters feel like real people in real situations. Helping this sense is the milieu which are the suburbs of Yokohama, quiet suburban streets and old-fashioned houses in the countryside where ageing opinionated family members reside, and the glitz and seediness of downtown Kabukicho. All provide distinctly different but atmospheric tones that help characterisation. A good example is Atsuhisa and Natsumi’s cluttered and cramped home which we visit at the height of summer, a season that adds to the sense of pent up frustration especially as the film depicts the sort of lower-middle class way of living where families are struggling to get by financially and so we sympathise with Natsumi, played with maturity and nuance by former AKB48 idol Yuko Oshima, as we experience her family’s lack of social mobility, the stress from a lack of money, and overbearing relatives.
While his character’s reasoning and behaviour might seem off to some audience members, Taiga Nakano gives a very moving performance of a man weighted down by guilt and unable to fully verbalise the myriad of emotions he feels, especially in a Japanese context. His tremulous body language speaks of someone who aches with shame, cowardice and self-censorship. It generates a force on screen that, when he lets his emotions out, hits hard like a freight train. Even if I could guess where the film was going, it drew tears from me as I watched his plight. That, coupled with Ryuya Wakaba’s portrayal of a loyal friend who tries his hardest to offer a steady hand to guide Atsuhisa as he navigates his inner turmoil, leads to an ending which will also have you in tears and it will remind you to say what is in your heart, especially when it comes to loved ones.
This is a slightly modified version of my review that was published on VCinema on October 24th.
Other Yuya Ishii films I have reviewed include
The Tokyo Night Sky Is Always the Densest Shade of Blue (2017), The Great Passage (2013), Mitsuko Delivers (2011), Sawako Decides (2010)