愛のゆくえ「Ai no Yukue」
Release Date: 2023
Duration: 88 mins.
Director: Fuka Miyajima
Writer: Fuka Miyajima (Screenplay),
Starring: Itsuki Nagasawa, Airu Kubozuka, Mari Hayashida, Katsumi Hyodo, Atsuko Hirata, Keisuke Horibe, Rena Tanaka,
Where Love Goes is a tale of love. It seems to be named after the main character but also captures how the emotion imbues people with an unshakeable inner power and how it draws them to safety. It is a striking debut. Well shot, affecting, visually distinctive. It may feature familiar characters and tropes but first-time feature film director Fuka Miyajima evades conventionality through a touch of magical realism.
We are taken to a snowbound town in Hokkaido (Fuka Miyajima’s home island) and into the cosy house of two junior high schoolers, shy silent Ai Sudo (Itsuki Nagasawa) and angry Sosuke Ito (Airu Kubozuka). They are not blood relatives but live together as a patchwork family cared for with great compassion for by Ai’s mother, Yumi (Mari Hayashida). Yumi’s love takes the form of constancy in cooking curries and caring for others first despite her own ill health. This provides a warm safe space for her kids who are enduring tormenting feelings of self-doubt, bullying in school, and the harsh snowy environment just outside their doorstep. Then Yumi dies and Ai is taken to Tokyo by her neglectful father while Sosuke is left behind, lost in confusion and fury. This is the start of Ai’s odyssey as she finds herself drawn back to her old home, Sosuke, and a new self-understanding.
The form that Ai’s odyssey takes is starting over at a new home, new school but re-experiencing abandonment. This forces her to make a space for herself in new communities of delinquent kids and the homeless, people who have also been abandoned. The people she meets function as both a mirror for her circumstances and also a catalyst that helps her emotional growth. Their presence also works in ways that help elucidate what is going on inside Ai in lieu of dialogue.
As a protagonist, Ai is very opaque and, initially, frustratingly passive but she proves to be the strongest character in a story full of people struggling with their own feelings of inadequacy and the hunger for love, both romantic and from a parent figure. Running beneath this is the desire to exercise free will. We grow confident and calm in her presence as Ai masters her feelings and self-actualises her personality through various encounters and it is satisffing to experience. The only other person with such strength is her mother. From early on we see Ai modelling her behaviour on Yumi and so we get the sense that the mother’s selfless love is both what propels Ai on her journey and shields her from the privations of the world.
Indeed, while her struggles have the harsh edge of reality, love eases the pain. While emotions run hot, the emotional tone is cool, much like Ai. However, there is also a lingering dusting of magical realist touches throughout the film that leavens the dark tone.
From near the start we see Ai’s childlike crayon drawings illustrate the screen. They both serve as exposition to quickly explain family relations but also reveal her rich inner world. That constantly develops throughout the film as the drawings get more sophisticated in style, with beautiful oils and more abstract elements and animation, while also reflecting her evolving aspirations and imaginings.
The constant references to these images lend the film a fairy tale-like quality and also convey the sense that she has the capacity to dream herself into new worlds and that serves as the connective tissue between dream sequences and reality the film flits between. Soon, it comes as no surprise when we get a phantom postman conveying letters from the dead to the living while also absolving the film of having to be realistic in tone or explaining away sudden shifts in location.
Throughout Ai’s journey, the scenery is the perfect visual backdrop. The film gains a lot from its Hokkaido setting, with snow both beautiful and threatening in a sublime way as it feels so overwhelming it can smother characters. It is also fairy tale-like, thus adding the the fantastical tone. There are also some stunningly beautiful shots in a bigger city such as Ai waking up on a snow-covered riverbank with birds taking flight overhead. Aside from the emotionally rich story, the visuals of the film justify viewings.
All told, storylines that are subject to conventionally shot melodramas are given a lift into the mysterious and the magical by Miyajima’s style. The film also conveys something powerful.
I think that people who have had the good fortune to have experienced love and care will be set for life with a certain confidence borne from experience and knowledge, that of having a place and person they belong to. Being able to share that sort of love with others is a powerful thing. Something with the capacity to save others. I believe the film illustrates this through Ai’s journey..
Where Love Goes is playing at the Osaka Asian Film Festival 2023 and it will be screened again on March 17.