2016年7月17日 星期日

Umi yorimo mada fukaku (After the storm) (比海還深)

Inside a small council housing estate flat in Kiyoshe, a Tokyo suburb, an aging mother, Shinoda Yoshiko (Kirin Kiki) and a middle aged daughter Chinatsu Nakashima (Satomi Kobayashiwere chatting about the only other man in the family, the mother's recently departed husband. The radio announced that a big typhoon was heading in the direction of Tokyo from Kyushu. The mother said she felt so relieved that her husband was finally gone and that her eldest son Shinoda Ryota (Hiroshi Abe) had just called that he'd be coming. His sister commented wryly that his brother, a prize winning novelist for his first novel which he wrote some 15 years ago, would only come for money. The mother didn't say anything.

The screen cuts into another scene in which we find the protagonist Ryoto engaging in small talk with his boss Koichiro Yamabe(Lily Franky) in a tiny detective agency about how couples spying on each other's marital infidelity and on locating for lost pets constitute the bulk of their business. After work, Ryoto had a bowl of noodle from a fast food stall, bought a cake and entered the council house flat. The door was locked. He rang the bell but there was no response. He reached his hand into the bottom of the letter box, got a key and opened the door. The mother asked him how he was. He said he was doing OK although he did not get his summer bonus. He said he was still trying to gather material for his second novel which he was writing and that it was not too bad because he had someone working under him. His mother did not appear to believe him but said nothing. They went out on to the tiny verandah, reminiscing about the days when his father was still alive and Ryoto was still a kid. There,his mother kept a plant which hasn't once borne a flower or let alone bearing any fruit. But she kept it nonetheless, carefully watering it. She told his son, one day, it became the home of a caterpillar who later turned into a beautiful blue butterfly who flew away. Once his mother was in her room, he rummaged through her belongings, as always, hoping to find a painting owned by his late father which he thought might be worth a fortune and when he asked his mother about it, he was told that the very next day he was gone, she had thrown away everything belonging to him.  

Then we see Ryoto meeting a lady in a restaurant. He told her he got some photos of her meeting with another man in a love-inn but hinted that those photos could disappear. The lady asked him how much he wanted and even if he was interested in checking out on her own husband. He agreed. After he got the money, which was sufficient to pay for the promised maintenance for his son Shiraichi Shingo (Taiyo Yoshizawa), he went to a bicycle racing track with his younger colleague Kento Machida (Kosuke Ikematsu). As usual, he lost again all he got and then asked Machida to lend him 100, 000 yen because he was about to meet his ex wife the beautiful but glacial Shiraishi Kyoko (Yoko Maki ) and his 11 year old son Shingo Shiraishi (Taiyo Ishizawa) to pay her the promised monthly child maintenance. He got 50,000. They met. Kyoko asked for the money. He promised he'd pay her later and meanwhile took Shingo off for the rest of the day, bought him a pair of Mizuno sports shoes but before reaching the cash counter, deliberately scratched the shiny surface of one of the shoes against the corner of the stone steps inside the small shop and then asked for a discount. Together they went to his mother's house. His mother was overjoyed and cooked some curry for him which he quickly devoured. Later she told him that the curry sauce had been in the freezer for 6 months. He protested. But his sister said that men are too concerned about expiry dates.In her own defence, Yoshiko said that for the flavor to sink in, it takes time, just as in life. When the radio announced that the typhoon has now landed, Yoshiko lamented that when Ryoto was still a kid, before moving into the council housing flat, whenever she heard on the radio that a typhoon was coming, she'd pack all her belongings from their former shed for fear that the roof would be torn off during the night and together with Ryoto would spend the night at the nearby church school and that she was so glad that she was given the chance to move into the present flat but that she never thought that she'd be staying there for 40 years. 

The storm was approaching. Kyoko came to fetch Shingo. But the weather was turning nasty. Yoshiko suggested that they stay for the night. Reluctantly Kyoko agreed. Yoshiko's face instantly lit up  and set about promptly to prepare the bedding. When they entered the room, they got a shock. Yoshiko had laid out one tatami for all three with a small pillow for Shingo in the middle! Ryoto, who had earlier spied on Kyoko with his younger colleague, could barely hide his joy. He wanted desperately for a reunion but was peremptorily rebuffed when he reached out his hand for Kyoko's thigh. .

In the night, he brought his son to a covered slide where his own dad used to take him when he was kid to watch the howling winds and rains during a typhoon. There, he asked his son what he wanted to do. His son said he wanted to be a civil servant, which was exactly the answer he gave when he himself wrote a school essay on his plans for the future when he was a kid of Shingo's age but not a baseball player, a game he was playing when his father spied on his mother whilst she was with her new boyfriend, an ex baseball champion and now the boss of a property agency. Shingo asked his father whether he had achieved his own dream. He told Shingo that he had not but that what was important in life was not achieving one's dream, but to keep that dream always at the front of one's mind so that one has motivation to keep on living. Shingo nodded as if he understood.

Before long, Kyoko went out of the house to look for them and was invited to join them inside the covered slide and together they hid inside, leaning against the wall of the covered slide  in the children's playround and against each other. When the rain became less heavy, we are shown all three looking on the gust swept ground for the lottery tickets Ryoto bought for Shingo earlier in the day and which Shingo dropped whilst he was getting the money out from his pocket to buy a drink at a nearby vending machine. The following morning, they all went to the metro station but not before Ryoto going first to a pawnshop to sell an antique stone ink-stick grinding-plate which he had stolen from his mother's. There he learned from the pawnbroker that his dad went there once to pawn the painting Ryoto was so desperately looking for at his mother's and that when he did so, he told the old pawnbroker that he needed the money for Ryoto's cancer operation. Ryoto never had one. He also learned that his own dad was giving a copy of his first novel to every one of his friends in the housing estate shortly after it came out. The pawnbroker than asked Ryoto to sign in Chinese ink brush his signature on the copy of his novel that his dad gave him. Ryoto half reluctantly agreed, using the ink ground on that stolen ink-stick grinding-plate.

When the film ends, we see Ryoto joining Kyoko and Shingo on the steps to the metro station. Will that reunion last?

I like this film by Hirokazu Kore-eda, who both directed and wrote the script. There was no melodrama. Most of the time, we got long and medium shots, thus giving the film a general sense of artistic distance, something emphasized also by the quiet, a bit desolate music  (by
Hianaregumi) often with just a few spare and jagged notes and a simple melody, with the theme of unspoken love and love's regrets expressed by the lyrics of a pop song. The dialogue is spare and always meaningful and the details chosen for close-ups always significant. A masterpiece of cinematic restraint exuding a tad of the Japanese sense of fatalism, which  renders the weak willed, gambling-addicted and not altogether moral Ryoto almost likeable through his genuine but ineffective love for his son Shingo and his undying love for his realistic ex- wife Kyoko. Abe is excellent as the disorganized compulsive gambler who can never put any disciplined order into his life. Yashizawa portrays very well the sensitive, ordinary and unambitious child caught between the conflict between his alienated parents, longing for love and intimacy. I like in particular the performance of Kirin Kiki as the disappointed yet doting mother of his once famous son, anxious always to do whatever she can to make him just a little happier, to tolerate his inadequacies and hoping against hope for a change for the better.

Hirokazu Kore-eda
was also the director of "Our Little Sister" 2015 which I previously wrote about.(http://elzorro1080.blogspot.hk/2015/11/our-little-sister-umimachi-diary.html) I must try to look out for more of his films.