Side by Side サイド バイ サイド 隣にいる人 (2023) Dir: Chihiro Ito [Osaka Asian Film Festival 2023]

Side by Side       Side by Side Film Poster R

サイド バイ サイド 隣にいる人 Saido Bai Saido Tonari ni Iru Hito

Release Date: April 14th, 2023

Duration: 130 mins.

Director: Chihiro Ito

Writer: Chihiro Ito (Screenplay),

Starring: Kentaro Sakaguchi, Asuka Saito, Kodai Asaka, Ameri Isomura, Mikako Ichikawa,

Website IMDB

Side by Side is the sophomore directorial feature from veteran screenwriter Chihiro Ito. Under her own name and under the pen name Anne Horizumi, she has written a multitude of screenplays for hit films, partnering up in particular with Isao Yukisada for titles like Crying Out Love in the Center of the World (2004) and The Cornered Mouse Dreams of Cheese (2020). 

In 2022, she debuted as a director with In Her Room, which was produced by Yukisada and played in the Nippon Cinema Now section at the Tokyo International Film Festival. It recently went on general release in Japan and has gotten good reviews. In a month’s time, Side by Side get its theatrical release but before then, it receives its world premiere at Osaka Asian Film Festival 2023. 

The film takes place in the natural splendour of Nagano Prefecture. Here we find Miyama (Kentaro Sakaguchi), a handsome young man from Tokyo, who lives a placid life with his girlfriend Shiori (Mikako Ichikawa), a nurse, and her daughter Mimi (Ameri Isomura). He is an idealised vision of a boyfriend. He cooks, he cleans, he helps with childcare. While he may look perfect, he has a dark past which comes out through his ability to sense the thoughts and feelings of others. This can take the form of a spirit of either someone who is alive or deceased. These spirits hover around, usually because they have a message to convey. With these powers, he helps a myriad of people but he might need to help himself since he has a glowering spirit of a young man with dyed-blonde hair clinging to him. This is Kusaka (Kodai Asaka). Once Miyama’s junior in high school, he is now working as a musician in Tokyo and has taken up with Miyama’s ex-girlfriend Riko (Asuka Saito). Kusaka’s desire to see Miyama draws the psychically sensitive young man back to his past.

While the film is packed with plot points that have the potential to push the story in thrilling and dark directions, Side by Side is a slow-paced story that sees the characters parsing old traumas with the support of each other, the environment, and spectral visions. It is a film with zero dramatic tension. This is less a mystery-thriller and more a mood piece defined by lush nature worshipping cinematography that creates a dreamlike atmosphere which is maintained throughout most of the run-time. It may not be the most gripping of experiences, but the appreciation of the natural environment helps the film’s separate strands of spirituality, the supernatural, and the place of people in nature coalesce into a satisfying whole that some viewers may find refreshing.

There is much to appreciate in the way Ito composes her imagery to make an idealised world where wounds can be healed by creating a safe space in a bucolic setting and this is probably a key part of what makes the film pleasant.

Ito often has her actor’s blocking in such a way that characters are parallel with each other to create a nice balance to the scene, she highlights the beauty of the Nagano locations as her camera watches Miyama walking along lakes and on countryside paths that are backgrounded by mist-wreathed mountains, there are montages of characters picking flowers or lying against logs, soft-focus shots of the characters enjoying the rural idyll, and there are close-ups on the plants and creatures that live amongst them to give to the audience a more sensual feeling of the world. This sensuality also covers the way characters touch and feel each other, the principal way that Miyama heals others. There are hints of erotic potential with close-up on hands caressing and hugs but that only goes so far as the story is more concerned about the more gentle and supportive aspects of the relationships found in the film.

In the lead role, Kentaro Sakaguchi conveys the right amount of mysteriousness without tipping over into vacuousness. When he is confronted by another character or is forced to acknowledge a ghost, he allows us a glimpse of a stand-offish nature behind his pleasant charm to keep us wondering about him. Meanwhile Mikako Ichikawa displays a wry sense of humour to liven things up.

Side by Side Film Image 2 R

Ultimately, Ito plays it straight and lets the story gently unfold, although she does show a wry sense of humour with regards to the fate of Miyama in the final moments of the film. There is no explanation for the spirits or who can see them, but acknowledging them leads to catharsis and healing. This, when coupled with the locations, will sway an audience into a relaxing time. So, all told, if a movie has the power to heal then this is certainly a candidate with its gentle nature and positivity.

At best, calming. At worst, soporific. Always beautiful to look at and ultimately life affirming. Side by Side is a solid experience in the moments you view it.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.