yes, yes, yes Director: Akihiko Yano (2020) [Osaka Asian Film Festival 2021]

yes, yes, yes

Release Date: N/A

Duration: 74 mins.

Director: Akihiko Yano

Writer: Akihiko Yano, (Script), 

Starring: Kazuma Uesugi, Kazunari Uryu, Minami Inoue, Nahoko Kawasumi,

OAFF

Sometimes, the meaning of something can be found in the destruction of something else. So it goes in writer and director Akihiko Yano’s original work yes, yes, yes which powerfully depicts a family being reborn after all of the anguish and confusion that comes with facing death.

In this ensemble drama, we watch a few days in the life of a family of four people who have to wrestle with the devastating news that the mother, Sayuri (Nahoko Kawasumi), may not be able to come back from hospital after the return of a serious illness. We are dropped into this in media res as the bombshell hits everyone gathered in her hospital room. While Sayuri is scared, she braces up as best she can. The person who seems to take this news the worst is teenage son Takeaki (Kazuma Uesugi) who lacks the maturity to process what it all means and so he bristles with nihilistic anger. In contrast, his older sister Juri (Minami Inoue) knows enough to put on a brave face but her mind is also elsewhere as she faces her own lonely struggle on her way to single-motherhood, something which has split her parents. Meanwhile, their father, Masaaki (Kazunari Uryu), has adopted a false mask as he desperately tries to play the patriarch to hide his own fear and sadness. At this moment of crisis when they should all be pulling together, each person retreats into themselves and their family begins to fall apart.

While director Yano has Takeaki’s character arc and his earnest narration serve as a sort of structure to the story, at the heart of the film is the anticipatory grief over Sayuri’s death that acts like a dynamo causing everyone to really reckon with the meaning of their existences. Drama is stoked in how this places these four characters in painful confrontations that force them to acknowledge and accept each other and their individual problems to the point that they become a family again. At no point is the film contrived or manipulative in trying to make this arc as the characters behave in a realistic way, the setting is a typical slice of Japanese suburbia, and the general tone of the film is restrained due to the way it was filmed. Since the events and dialogue are kept narrow and totally in relation to their dilemmas, which are the sort of elemental problems that can be easily understood by anybody, the shifting relationship dynamics in this group come to the fore, quite purely, through some phenomenal acting.

From the first moment I laid eyes on them I felt like the cast were a real family that had a history together. Each person had a naturalistic physicality and a wide register of performance ability ranging from deliberately stilted to indicate stifled emotions to the most open and expressive to show trust and familial connections. Along the way, the performers skilfully showed how their characters retreated into their shells, through violent rejection or suppressed emotion, and it was very noticeable and believable how their inability to touch and talk to each other caused them further pain. The film worked in making me understand the power that hugging a loved one has, first through the parents who clutch each other in a moment of confessed despair and then when father and son come into conflict. The warmth of another human body may be rejected at first, it comes to be an act of salvation for the family in a climax that managed to wrench a few sobs and plenty of tears from me as I was moved by the sight of people who were in such pain finally start to heal in a way that conveys the love each person has for one another while showing that they are not alone even when faced with something as crushing as death.

Director Akihiko Yano, acting as cinematographer, wisely chooses to shoot things in a stark black-and-white style that removes any distractions from the acting. This style choice also has another effect as it smothers the glorious summer days that the drama takes place in, draining the image of life and colour in a way that reflects the way death has come for the mother. Framing is always perfect with the biggest focus always being on the actors who are often caught in close-ups that allow them to convey their internal emotions well and their physicality really comes to the fore as a way to create warmth in a cold world. There is also room for poetic images via inserts of kites in summers skies and bursting fireworks. These have a dreamlike quality that also double as a metaphor for the sort of dazzling emotions of anger and confusion that flare up and also the transience of life.

This is a purposefully simple film, its script pared down and its look restrained so that the focus is totally on the cast who portray characters wrestling with their existential problems, first individually, and then together after coming to a gradual acceptance that while death is inevitable, valuing life is important. Watching the film is an intense experience, something I can attest to as I felt that the drama was so clear that I was swept up in the turmoil felt by the characters and buffeted by their various conflicts as intended by Yano’s direction and the powerful performances of the cast. It’s a 74-minute tour de force of acting examining the human condition.

yes, yes, yes is at the Osaka Asian Film Festival 2021. It was screened in March 08 and will be shown again on March 11.

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