Sakuko Kizaki (Miku Uehara) is a member of her high-school art club along with her friend Emi Otani (Kokoro Morita) and talented fellow student Hikaru Saibara (Kogarashi Wakasugi). While the group are out sketching at the docks, Sakuko is knocked into the water. Hikaru paints the flailing Sakuko and the picture is hung up in the school stairwell and praised for its quality. When Hikaru asks Sakuko to model for a new portrait, she is at first unwilling, not understanding the reason for her classmate’s interest in her. Meanwhile, Sakuko is being forced to pack up her things at home as her family, her father (Yota Kawase) and his new heavily pregnant wife Satomi (So Hirosawa), are moving out. Believing she has little talent for art she bags up her sketches and drawings, but soon finds a new creative outlet, collecting bits and pieces from the things they are throwing out and constructing a boat from the discarded scraps.
“A Muse Never Drowns” is a beautifully composed film, with each element helping drive forward the themes of growth and creativity. From the first moment we see Sakuko sketching the boat, to the final moments when we see the wildly creative construction she has made from junk, we see her develop in a way that is relatable and believable. Writer-director Nozomi Asao focuses on the relationship between Sakuko and Hikaru, creating an incredible depth of emotion between them. The power of their scenes is in the subtle everyday concerns that are driving them, anxieties about their own talents, and fears for the future, as well as uncomfortably new feelings of affection. The performances of Miku Uehara, Kokoro Morita and Kogarashi Wakasugi are note perfect, reflecting their immaturity alongside a growing sense of self-confidence and yearning for independence without veering into melodrama. Sakuko’s home situation is likewise understated; she has a good relationship with both parents, but with an underlying tension due to the loss of her birth mother. Asao’s use of visual and narrative metaphor works well without being too obvious. Some great examples of this are the fantastical boat that Sakuko constructs from the broken pieces of her home; and the sequence in which we see this home being demolished. Characters occassionaly philosophise on life and relationships, but the script manages to work in these more poetic moments with the characters and situations.
A coming-of-age film that expertly weaves plot and theme together in its tale of young women confronting the future and themselves. Sakuko is typical of many young teenagers, having been passionate about something, but later realising that there are more talented individuals out there. Hikaru, who seems to Sakuko to be achieving everything she wants, is also anxious about the things she is unable to attain. Together they are able to see life more clearly, finding solace in each other’s strengths and weaknesses, and reassess what it is they want from life. They come to realise the importance of creativity and constant reinvention. We learn early in the film that they are the only two who have yet to submit their applications to higher education, emphasising this sense that both are lost and unable to see the path forward. They have spent so long trapped in their own hopes and anxieties that they are unable to see that they need to change in order to progress. The film ends with this positive message that people are able to change, to adapt, and to reinvent themselves constantly in order to face a world that can be full of unexpected disappointments. A wonderful coming-of-age story that is sure to resonate with audiences young and old.