JAPAN YO ISHINA

Tooi basho kara - review: Diving into the ambiguity of emotion with tranquil sincerity.

This heartbreaking drama tries to dive into the ambiguity of emotion, and its sincerity makes our hearts tremble in tranquility.

There are quite a few works of art that depict the landscapes after the death of a loved one. Since death is the closest stranger to life, there is no end to the number of people who are attracted to this "otherness". But how many artists' miserable cadavers who have tackled the theme with frivolousness have we seen? However, I have witnessed one of the few moments when a hero emerges from the pile of cadavers. That moment is in Tooi basho kara / 遠い場所から ("From a Distant Place") directed by Yo Ishina / 石名遥, a young, promising protégé of Hirokazu Kore-eda.

The protagonist of the film is a young man named Iori, who is in his third year of college. One day, he and his family receive the news that his estranged father has passed away. Iori is shocked to learn that his death is a so-called "kodoku shi / 孤独死", lonely death referring to a Japanese phenomenon of people dying alone and remaining undiscovered for a long period of time because he thinks that he lives with his mistress. And then, Iori and his family are immersed in their own sorrow.

The film begins by depicting the daily lives of Iori in a simple, uncomplicatedly realistic manner. Iori is in a relationship with a girl named Kana, who has another boyfriend, and while he enjoys this romantic relationship, he has unresolved feelings about it. The news of the father's death creates a somehow awkward atmosphere in the family, and the clumsiness like a bitter smile haunts their words and actions.

Ishina's direction is full of serenity and austere understatement. She and her cinematographers, Motoyuki Sakka 作花素至 and Ayane Kanno 菅野綾音, look deeply into the characters' expressions and every move they are making. Her gaze is sharp and lucid, revealing the intersection of words full of emotion and their unspoken thoughts on the shots.

What is particularly fascinating about the film is the script that the director herself wrote. Iori's mother feels guilty about her ex-husband's death, wondering that it happened because she abandoned him, while his younger sister Yui, who does not hide her disgust at her father, is annoyed by the mother's behaviour. And, wandering between Kana and his family, Iori thinks about his father and, meanwhile, finds a portable radio that the father left behind. The emotional flow of the characters she portrays is rooted in the reality of everyday life in Japan, but at the same time, there are leaps and bounds that surprise the audiences. This unique undulation of thought invites us into Ishina's unmitigated sensitivity.

And it is her writing of details that support the authenticity of the undulation. As a screenwriter, Ishina makes good use of a number of props, but the narrative of the portable radio is particularly poignant. For Iori, it is the last link to his late father. As Iori wanders through a room filled with the colours of twilight looking for a radio signal, he is searching for an invisible but important connection with him.

What makes the film so moving is that while Ishina's direction and accumulation of details are abundant and conspicuous, what she is trying to portray is an extremely ambiguous sense of a Japanese word "warikirena sa / 割り切れなさ". The family, including Iori, cannot simply hate their father, nor can they love him. The theme of the film is what to do with subtle ambiguity between these simple feelings. The director does not give an obvious answer to its theme or question, but, while leaving the ambiguous things still ambiguous, she tries to dive into the ambiguity of emotion deeply. This sincerity in Tooi basho kara makes our hearts tremble in tranquillity.

© Waseda University

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