Stay (2019) Dir: Naoya Fujita

Stay    Stay Film Poster   

Release Date: September 05th, 2020

Duration: 38 mins.

Director: Naoya Fujita

Writer: Suzuyuki Kaneko (Script), 

Starring: Keita Yamashina, Ruka Ishikawa, Takaki Uda, Yumi Endo, Kenta Yamagishi, Kohei Nagano, Suzuyuki Kaneko,


Stay, by director Naoya Fujita, has been screened at the Tama New Wave Festival, Skip City D-Festival and the Osaka Asian Film Festival which is where I saw it as part of the package of films supported by the Housen Cultural Foundation, an organisation which provides financial backing to students in graduate schools across Japan. The inspiration for the story comes from the time when Fujita encountered a traditional Japanese-style home and was immediately taken with it, imagining what it would be like for a community to form around it and this idea evolving into one asking the question of what constitutes a family.

We enter Fujita’s house through Yajima (Keita Yamashina), a meek and clumsy village official who has shown up at the old place with orders to convince the occupants to move into social housing or simply evict them. What he discovers is a community of strangers who, despite having no ties to the house, have all gathered there and pitch in when it comes to doing chores. 

Initially we wonder about these people who are effectively squatters and their motivation. This is one of any number of abandoned homes in Japan which one can surmise is the result of depopulation. What of the former owners? Are the current ones right to revive it by staying there illegally if nobody has come to claim it? Yajima is torn by this question and struggles to perform his job and so mild comedy ensues as he ventures around the place and makes some social faux-pas while trying to ingratiate himself with others.

Throughout the time we observe these people, director Fujita and his cast depict the subtle relationship dynamics between the occupants. Even though their backgrounds remain opaque and disparate, they have fallen into a “family relationship” and within this their behaviour carries menacing hints of their mentalities. Alongside a couple of guys who seem to be friends or brothers, there is a perky young woman named Maki (Ruka Ishikawa) who acts as a cheerleader binding people together. She shows Yajima around and ropes him into collecting food. There is a kind 30-something woman named Saeko (Yumi Endo) who has taken on the “mother of the house” role and provides a steadying hand to Yajima through guidance on how to get along with others. Then there is the “master of the house”, a confident hands-on man named Suzuyama (Takaki Uda) who is remodelling the place to his own tastes even though nobody has asked him to. 

Stay Cast

Suzuyama’s sweeping confidence and joviality papers over his controlling nature as shown by the way he issues orders to the other housemates and he remodels the house the way he likes it. That Saeko picks up on this masculine control and flees from it is quite telling. Maki is someone who might be described as a genki girl at first but we see her character deflate and become vulnerable when people start to exit the house. It is as if she is empty inside and has become dependent on others. Indeed, it feels as if they are all dependent upon the presence of someone else for their own happiness including the house itself.

The setting of the house is really evocative and a character in its own right. Its large tatami-covered rooms partitioned by shoji encourages people to be together. When people are together, there is a liveliness to the space. It is all shown via a couple of exterior and interior shots relayed by precise camera placement and a few sweeping pans and meaningful zooms from which we get a perfect view of the location and its occupants. The actors move their way through the environment with perfect synchronicity as they act out their story and come and go. The contrast between the scenes of communal living, as shown when the group dine together on nabe, and seeing the house devoid of people after so much activity is disquieting, as if we have seen the dissolution of a family and the soul of the house in the short duration of the film. It serves to reinforce the idea that spaces and people need others for life.

By the end of the film I was considering the word “Stay”. It has different emotions attached to it. One is a sense of security, as in a nice place to stay. Friends, family, a familiarity and safety that makes staying comfortable. Another emotion is a sense of abandonment. When others go, you are left behind. The film cycles through these things and even suggests that staying somewhere can be constricting and it is a natural inevitability that people will want to leave. Being human is to be subject to these constrasting emotions. It’s all subtly told over 38 minutes and worth a watch, the desolate feeling at the end being quite profound.

The last time I reviewed Housen films was in 2017 and while each year presents new and interesting titles, the 2020 batch had a couple of enthralling ones done in a minimalist style that caught my attention. Stay was one of them. The selection for 2021 offers more.

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