One Night  ひとよ Dir: Kazuya Shiraishi (2019)

One Night    One Night Film Poster

ひとよ  Hitoyo

Release Date: November 08th, 2019

Duration: 123 mins.

Director: Kazuya Shiraishi

Writer: Izumi Takahashi (Screenplay), Yuko Kuwabara (Original Stage Play)

Starring: Takeru Satoh, Ryohei Suzuki, Mayu Matsuoka, Yuko Tanaka, Kuranosuke Sasaki, Mariko Tsutsumi, Hanae Kan, Megumi,

Website IMDB

Director Kazuya Shiraishi chronicles the darker aspects of Japan with true-crime stories featuring outlaws like The Devil’s Path (2013) and Twisted Justice (2016) mixed with depictions of damaged everyday people on the outermost fringes of society like Dawn of the Felines (2017) and Birds Without Names (2018). For One Night, his first family drama, he adapts a stage play by Yuko Kuwabara but leans too far into crime territory late in the proceedings for an unsatisfactory ending.

The film opens on a stormy night at the Inamoto Taxi company which is located in some nondescript town. Koharu Inamoto (Yuko Tanaka) runs over her abusive husband in a taxi in an act to free herself and her three children from his merciless violence. After confessing what happened to her kids, all of whom bear the bruises of a beating, Koharu tells them, “Nobody will ever beat you again. You can live however you want.” Just before departing into the rain and darkness to give herself up to the police, she promises she will meet them again in the future.

Cut to 15 years later and we see that Koharu’s selfless act that was supposed to set her family free to pursue their dreams has trapped them in a vicious circle of shame and self-loathing that has made their lives nightmarish. Koharu discovers this bitter disappointment as she keeps her promise and returns to her children and the family business. Her presence forces everyone to confront the scars from their traumatic background, how the kids have inherited the sins of the mother by living in shame, and how this has all warped their personalities in various ways. These differences lead to multiple angles of conflict between characters we sympathise with due to their shared history and that provides ample drama which is excellently delivered by the cast.

Displaying various degrees of emotional damage and toxic masculinity are Koharu’s boys. Eldest son Daiki is a nebbish-looking guy who is struggling badly with a failing marriage and meeting masculine norms. The slicker younger son Yuji is a cynical journalist for a sleazy tabloid who senses he can turn his tragic past into a brighter future through writing about it, even if this betrays his family. Screen heartthrob Takeru Satoh plays the more showy character of Yuji with provoking sneers and condescension fit for his character. More conventional but really harrowing is the plight faced by Daiki. Ryohei Suzuki is very sympathetic playing the bespectacled guy unable to process what happened to them. He is all huddled and quiet with a downcast gaze and stutter due to a lack of confidence and a lot of shame. His constant avoidance of conflict leads to a shock later in the story as he he slips into violence in a way that reminds audiences that children learn from their parents.

More welcoming is Koharu’s daughter Sonoko played by Mayu Matsuoka, a much-needed ray of sunshine whose bright personality and hard-knock smile lights up the dark narrative. Having been forced to give up her ambitions to be a hairstylist, she works at a snack bar where she belts out karaoke tunes with glee and has a cynical view of men that she is unafraid to show. This motivates her to push back against her brother’s wayward feelings towards their mother.

Veteran actress Yuko Tanaka plays Koharu as a woman with mighty resolve and a humane nature who is resigned to enduring whatever hardship she faces for the good of her children. Naturally the audience will be with her and there is the expectation that she will right whatever wrongs that are going on, from saving Daiki’s marriage to coming to peace with with Yuji. Except it doesn’t quite work out so simply and seeing the family members navigate their sense of betrayal and try to overcome their traumas provides gripping material that the performances keep us invested in. Throw in an examination of how society ostracises those connected to crime, other characters around them struggling with issues like senile parents and wayward children and there is enough material here for a fine family drama that depicts the problems faced by modern families.

While the pieces are all there, the story loses its thread in the final third as if the writer Izumi Takahashi lacked an interest in realistically evolving the story and bringing the characters to a natural catharsis. Instead, a subplot involving Michio Doushita (Kuranosuke Sasaki) as a taxi driver whose criminal past catches up with him drives the action. While his plight makes an interesting parallel to Koharu’s, his story hijacks the film and takes away any agency from the mother and it leads to a contrived ending which foists an unbelievable connection between himself and the children, whom we never really see interact with him, just for the sake of a resolution.

One Night really starts off as a deep, dark, and very difficult performance-driven drama as we watch an excruciating reunion ripe for theatrics but everything is kept in check as the cast deliver some very fine and realistic portrayals showing the ways domestic violence can affect people. With a better ending, the emotional of sticking it out rewards would have been greater.

The technicals are all impressive enough and help transcend the film’s stage origins by taking advantage of the taxi company to get out of the single location so it never feels boring and there is a sense of place and time so that this feels rooted in reality.

My review for One Night first appeared on VCinema on September 01st.

Shoplifters 万引き家族 Dir: Hirokazu Kore-eda (2018)

Shoplifters   Shoplifters Film Poster

万引き家族 Manbiki Kazoku

Release Date: June 08th, 2018

Duration: 121 mins.

Director: Hirokazu Kore-eda

Writer: Hirokazu Kore-eda (Screenplay),

Starring: Lily Franky, Sakura Ando, Kirin Kiki, Miyu Sasaki, Mayu Matsuoka, Kairi Jyo, Yoko Moriguchi, Yuki Yamada, Moemi Katayama, Akira Emoto, Kengo Kora, Chizuru Ikewaki, Sosuke Ikematsu,

Website IMDB

Hirokazu Kore-eda is often compared to Yasujiro Ozu due to his depictions of families in Japan but he is quite political. Through various detailed tapestries of the rich and poor, nuclear and unconventional family units and different individuals, he has charted a myriad of lives all over the archipelago of his home nation and captured the changing dynamics of a country where tradition, social mores and people’s bonds are seemingly degrading as society adapts to new ways of thinking about work and family and people live atomised lives. Shoplifters tells the story of a most unconventional family by normal Japanese standards and, in so doing, it offers some quite stringent critiques of the exploitation of labour, the indifference of authorities and the resulting breakdown of relationships. It is a refreshingly open politicisation of content for a Japanese mainstream film and it feels akin to the social realist films of Ken Loach. This political bite could partly be the reason why the film went on to wow critics and net the prestigious Palme d’Or at the 2018 Cannes Film Festival but, as in all Kore-eda films, it is the performances that sway hearts and make audiences cry.

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Birthday Wonderland バースデー・ワンダーランド Dir: Keiichi Hara (2019) [Kotatsu Japanese Animation Festival 2019]

Birthday Wonderland     Birthday Wonderland Film Poster

バースデー・ワンダーランド Ba-sude- Wanda-rando

Release Date: April 26th, 2019

Duration: 115 mins.

Director: Keiichi Hara

Writer: Miho Maruo (Screenplay), Sachiko Kashiwaba (Original Creator)

Starring: Mayu Matsuoka (Akane), Akiko Yajima (Doropo), Anzu (Chi), Keiji Fujiwara (Xan Gu), Kumiko Aso (Midori), Masachika Ichimura (Hippocrates),

Website MAL ANN

After a career with titles that flirted with fantasy, from 2010’s Colorful and the 2015 award-winning smash-hit Miss Hokusai, director Keiichi Hara leaps straight into the genre with this movie adaptation of Sachiko Kashiwaba’s 1988 children’s story “Strange Journey From The Basement”. This Ghibli-esque tale is a delightful family-friendly female-led fantasy that is sure to entertain all but the most cynical individuals with its jaunt through a cute wonderland full of colourful characters and creatures in its story of a girl who learns how to stand up for herself and take responsibility by saving another world.

Akane Uesugi is our protagonist. A shy elementary school student (around 12 years old), she has trouble telling other people how she feels and this causes a crisis for her after one dicey situation in school where a friend is ostracised by her social circle while she stands by and does nothing. Feeling a little guilty, she decides to hide out at home by feigning an illness. The day before her birthday, Akane’s mother, Midori, sends her on an errand to go get her birthday present from her aunt Chi who owns an antique shop.

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The Kirishima Thing 桐島、部活やめるってよ (2012)

Genki Kirishima Thing Banner

The Kirishima Thing                                                   The Kirishima Thing Poster

Romaji: Kirishima, Bukatsu Yamerutteyo

Japanese Title: 桐島、 部活 やめるってよ

Release Date: August 11th, 2012 (Japan)

Running Time: 103 mins.

Director: Daihachi Yoshida

Writer: Ryo Asai (Original Novel), Kohei Kiyasu, Daihachi Yoshida (Screenplay)

Starring: Ai Hashimoto, Ryunosuke Kamiki, Suzuka Ohgo, Mayu Matsuoka, Motoki Ochiai, Masahiro Higashide, Kurui Shimizu, Mizuki Yamamoto, 

High school is a universal experience for a lot of people and a very popular setting for film and anime. Japan is especially good at creating high school, especially when one considers the dominance of clubs in high school life¹. Many stories look deep into the nature of relationships and the way people socialise and deconstruct various aspects to capture high school life and all of the ephemeral emotions adolescents have as this treasure of a film demonstrates.

Genki Kirishima Thing Cast of Characters

The story starts on a Friday when news that the popular high school volleyball star player Kirishima has quit the team is broken to various people.

Shockwaves are sent through the school’s social world with Kirishima’s handsome and equally popular best friend Hiroki Kikuchi (Higashide) left bewildered by the few facts that emerge, Kirishima’s socially popular girlfriend Risa (Yamamoto) angry, and the volleyball team in a panic ahead of a big game with the less capable Koizumi Fuusuke (Taiga) taking Kirishima’s pivotal libero position and getting scared by the pressure to live up to Kirishima’s performance leel.

Also affected, but indirectly, are the rest of the students who see the results of the revelation of Kirishima’s disappearance like badminton players Kasumi Higashihara (Hashimoto) and Mika Miyabe (Kurumi Shimizu), the less popular kids in the culture clubs like Aya Sawashima (Ohgo) a brass band musician with an impossibly earnest crush on Hiroki, and the president of the film club Ryoya Maeda (Kamiki) and his assistant director Takefumi (Maeno).

The story ends on a Tuesday when some of the students find themselves having crossed social boundaries and redefined themselves while others remain steadfastly in their mind-set. 

The Kirishima Thing was the big winner at the 36th Japan Academy Prize Awards taking Picture of the Year, Most Popular Film and Director of the Year awards.  It is based on a similarly named high school novel written by Ryo Asai who worked on adapting the book’s omnibus story framework into a film which has resulted in a non-linear narrative that covers all sorts of people who witness different things from different perspectives.

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