Jazz, film, and improvised culture.
Japan Cuts ’15: The Light Shines Only There
after his 1989 source novel was published, author Yasushi Sato took his own
life. Clearly, it did not sufficiently cheer him up. Decades later, director Mipo
O has helmed a big screen adaptation, showing a pronounced empathy for that
sort of dark and depressed state of being, despite her reputation for light
comedy. Life is nasty and brutish for two young lovers. Any respite they find
in each other’s arms will be paid for on credit with future misery in O’s The Light Shines Only There (trailer here), which screens as a
selection of this year’s Japan Cuts, the Festival of New Japanese Film in New
Sato has basically given up living. He shambles through the streets and
pachinko parlors of the blighted Hokkaido port town of Hakodate like a zombie.
Yet, for some strange reason, Takuji Oshiro will not stop talking to him.
Somehow, he even drags Sato back to his family’s beach shack, where his
put-upon sister Chinatsu serves them lunch, without a smile. Nonetheless, there
is a bit of something that passes between her and Sato. It is even there when
he drunkenly stumbles into the bar where she works as a “hostess.”
several false starts, Sato and Oshiro become lovers, at least as best they can.
It is safe to say they both have severe intimacy issues. Further complicating
matters, the local mobbed up squid factory owner considers her his personal
property. He is a violent lover, but she is stuck with his abuse, because he is
the guarantor for her brother’s parole.
happy times. Nevertheless, it is hard to truly be depressed by a film so well
acted and executed. As Chinatsu Oshiro, Chizuru Ikewaki is a staggering
revelation. While in real life she is quite stunning, for Light she is glammed down and bedraggled to truly look like a cast-aside
victim of life’s rottenness. Her performance is brave as Hell and relentlessly
honest, forcing us to watch the explicit realities of those who subsist in the
margins of polite society.
design, it is much harder to draw a bead on Gou Ayano’s distant Sato, at least
until his former boss from the stone quarry (nicely played with gruff
sensitivity by Shohei Hino) arrives to fill in some backstory. As annoying as
his character might be, Masaki Suda’s Takuji ultimately provides the film’s tragic
the purposes of easy symbolic short-hand, water is often associated with
purification, but not in Light.
Instead, screenwriter Ryo Takada’s adaptation of Yasushi Sato’s novel contrasts
the healthy cleanliness of the mountains where Tatsuo Sato once worked, with
the predatory corruption of the beachfront town.
It is potent stuff, but absolute Kryptonite for
the Academy, who declined to nominate Light
in the foreign language category, even though Japan duly submitted it. They
would have much better award season luck with a classy historical. On the other
hand, this is a film that will speak to young and disillusioned audiences much
more directly for years to come. Driven by Ikewaki’s frighteningly frank
performance, The Light Shines Only There is
recommended for those who appreciate uncompromisingly naturalistic drama. It
screens this Wednesday (7/15) at the Japan Society, as part of the 2015 Japan
Labels: Japan Cuts '15, Japanese Cinema