Release Date: 2023
Duration: 38 mins.
Director: Marina Tsukada
Writer: Marina Tsukada (Screenplay),
Starring: Aki Wakui, Yoomi Tamai, Takeshi Yamamoto, Ryo Ikeda,
Sekai is a small but wondrous film. It does one of the things that films are good at, it gives us the lives of other people. Working as writer, director, and editor, Marina Tsukada gives us two protagonists, ostensibly different, and takes us into their individual worlds and shows their commonalities and helps us relate to them. She achieves this through naturalism and minimalism, using great delicacy to convey everything.
The people we meet are a shy junior high student named Aki and a musician named Yoomi. Aki’s school life is spent keeping a low profile because of her stutter while her home life is fraught with emotional landmines as she navigates adolescent frustration with her quarrelling parents. Yoomi, on the other hand, is older, independent and lives alone. Her routine takes her between part-time work at a bar and a studio. While working, she talks to salarymen and young up-and-coming musicians.
On the surface they are different. The only thing they have in common is that both live in the same apartment block in a sleepy city in Nagano prefecture and pass each other by without really knowing of each others existence. But there is more that links them: the struggle to convey rich inner lives.
Seemingly very little happens in a dramatic sense. We glide in and out of scenes of their daily routines and witness the two interacting with others in ways that reveal traces of the dreams that sustain them and the frustration of failed communication.
Tsukada asks us to observe everyday moments and we build our understanding of the characters in a way that feels natural. It is contained in the lulls in conversation, the lingering shot. We watch Aki getting lost in books, walk home as she hums a tune, haltingly tries to carry a conversation. We listen intently as Yoomi tries to convey how absorbed she gets when composing but also confesses her lack of confidence to others only to find herself talked over as they prefer to see the romantic image of an artist. Even if you get older, it doesn’t necessarily follow that you get bolder. Tsukada trusts the viewer to draw out meaning from the quotidian and the gradual build up of feelings and meaning.
This is a film about observing behaviour and mood.
The soundscape is quiet. It is reflective of their environment where life is slow but it also means that the burst of music in the studio is exhilarating, the sound of furniture being overturned in Aki’s home is shocking, and the words that the two characters utter to others carry more weight.
Tsukada works with cinematographer Takashi Haga to give the perfect view into the shared world of the characters through medium and long shots with minimal cuts. This leads to many, many gorgeous images that would look absolutely stunning on the big screen. The rays of a dusk sun spilling over a mountain and drenching the riverside path that Aki walks along after school, the two characters gazing at the first snowflakes gently floating down from a cold night-time sky. This is more connective tissue that places the characters together while also conveying the sometimes cold, sometimes harsh world that they exist in. Smart use of close-ups on Aki and Yoomi allow their expressive faces to mainline their emotions to our hearts and move us. Tsukada has the confidence to hold a shot on her actors simply sitting still and contemplating and their faces provide visually rich canvasses that convey so much.
Sekai is a subtly emotionally resonant and an often visually beautiful experience. Pacing is gentle but patience is rewarded. Tsukada doesn’t force the issue with big dramatic outpourings but subtle epiphanies to underline what she is going for and the one at the end is a knockout as we see the connections between Aki and Yoomi as they both stare at the same night sky, share the same tune, and find a moment of solace and peace in their inner worlds. Audiences who have been paying attention to the worlds of the characters will feel that connection and experience an elated feeling and that caps of a rich experience of learning about others.
I will stop writing about this film but for me, Sekai is one of the best of the year already. It had its world premiere at the Rotterdam International Film Festival.
It gets its Asia Premiere at the Osaka Asian Film Festival 2023 where director Marina Tsukada will be in attendance. I recommend that you see it.
3/11 Sat 10:30《Short films program E》 Nakanoshima Museum of Art, Osaka
3/14 Tue 10:30《Short films program E》 Nakanoshima Museum of Art, Osaka