Lonely Glory (2022) by Keitaro Sakon

When she loses her job, a young woman moves back in with her siblings and attempts to sort out their lives for them. Haruka (Kokoro Morita) is a confident, forthright businesswoman, appointed as a leader at the counselling company she helped found. Due to her overbearing attitude, she is accused of workplace harrasment and asked to leave the firm by the CEO. When Haruka’s mother dies, her siblings are faced with difficult choices. Her eldest brother wants to continue running the small shop owned by their parents, while also pursuing a younger woman he wants to marry; her sister Miwako (Eriko Nakamura) is unhappy at having moved home after a divorce six years before, leaving behind a daughter; while Haruka’s younger brother, Takuji (Haya Nakazaki) is long-term unemployed. Haruka’s get-up-and-go attitude sees her clash with her siblings as she tries to force them to make tough decisions, pursue their romantic interests or start businesses of their own.

A fun take on the family drama, setting up a sibling rivalry and tension between the different world-views and characters of the four adult children. Writer-director Keitaro Sakon’s “Lonely Glory” tackles familiar problems among families, such as how to best carry on their parents legacy; dealing with relationship problems; lack of motivation; and different perspectives on how these issues should be addressed. Kokoro Morita gives a great central performance as Haruka, garnering sympathy in her attempts to help her family, while at the same time being brash and pushy, a black sheep in a family who would rather not disturb the status quo. There is a subtle tragedy in the background to the narrative, highlighted when the family give only cursory congratulations on learning it is Miwako’s birthday. It seems they are siblings who have little interest in each other’s lives, to the extent of not realising when one has a birthday. Keitaro Sakon’s direction captures the family dynamics in the way the characters seat themselves around their ramen shop; and the active camerawork helps bring us inside their lives.

Like a placid lake disrupted by a stone, Haruka’s return to the family fold sees their comfortable lives disturbed, with dramatic consequences. Haruka comes to have doubts about her businesslike approach to life, realising that she is overly demanding of others. She is constantly active and wanting to solve what she sees as problems, while the family are more bound by traditions of not rocking the boat. While Haruka’s actions largely lead to positive outcomes, we are left to wonder, along with Haruka, exactly what her own happiness would look like and why she has this restless energy to improve herself and those around her. This unique family story will resonate with people who have ever had a difference of opinion or approach with their siblings.

Bashing (2005) by Masahiro Kobayashi

Yuko (Fusako Urabe), a young woman in insecure employment as a hotel cleaner, is unceremoniously fired by her boss who tells her that the other workers don’t get along with her and the company has been receiving complaints. As she makes her way home Yuko is attacked outside the convenience store by a gang of young men. Everyone in the town seems to have it in for her. We come to learn the reason for her unpopularity: following a period of volunteering abroad in a war-torn country, Yuko was kidnapped and later released. Many people in her home country of Japan are unable to comprehend her actions, victim-blaming Yuko for going abroad and claiming that she has shamed them by being captured. Yuko’s father (Ryuzo Kato) also loses his long-held job when his superior tells him he has to let him go due to the negative press and ceaseless nuisance calls they are receiving about his daughter. As Yuko doggedly continues to live, even 6 months after her return, it seems that the society will never forgive her actions leading to tragedy in her own family.

The film begins with a card stating that the film is a work of fiction, not based on any real-world events. “Bashing” does however prove a stunning rebuke to narrow-mindedness and insularity that represent the worst elements of society. Given Yuko’s treatment at the hands of co-workers, employers, and even strangers, you would be forgiven for thinking she had committed some heinous crime rather than having been the victim of one. Her parents seem to be the only people who support her decision and are understandably relieved to have her home; however even they harbour feelings of unease that their daughter has chosen to step outside the acceptable norms of their society. The grim, overcast, small coastal town proves the perfect habitat for such people, who have little interest in the outside world. The bleak, washed-out, cinematography highlights the lack of colour or vibrancy Yuko is experiencing, comparing her situation to a past where she was volunteering in a foreign land. We see Yuko standing on the shore, the crashing waves of the sea representing the geographical and emotional distance of some people from the world outside their own narrow horizons.

“Bashing” is a simple film that packs an emotional punch. The tight handheld camera work keeps us with Yuko as she suffers the ignominy of living in a country that has rejected her. Despite offering a rather dire depiction of human society as insular, ignorant, mean-spirited, and close-minded, Yuko is a hopeful voice in this grim town. Turning her back on the conventional lives of her fellow citizens, she passionately reaffirms her commitment to following her own will. In a moving monologue to her mother (played by Nene Otsuka), Yuko sets out her manifesto, asserting her desire to travel abroad again as it was the one place she could find true happiness. Her simple declaration is a parting shot to the audience, asking us to question the values that shame victims and teach us to be fearful of the outside world.

Ikiru (1952) by Akira Kurosawa

A terminal diagnosis sharpens the attention of an elderly council worker, leading him to question what his life has been for. Mr. Watanabe (Takashi Shimura) is section head at the public liasons office of the city council. His life is one of endless drudgery, filling out forms, stamping documents, and overly bureaucratic systems that never seem to accomplish anything important. A widower, Watanabe lives with his son, Mitsuo (Nobuo Kaneko) and his wife, whose only consideration is how his pension money may help them buy their own house. After receiving a diagnosis of stomach cancer and realising he has perhaps only 6 months left, Watanabe is understandably distraught, considering suicide, when he has a chance encounter with an author (Yunosuke Ito). This younger man shows him the delights of the city, playing his ‘Mephistopheles’ for the night as he introduces him to the joys of gambling, drinking and women. Watanabe also begins a relationship with his younger female co-worker Toyo (Miki Odagiri), whose joie de vivre contrasts starkly with his own dreary existence. Inspired by her, and still grasping for purpose, Watanabe returns to work and sets about pushing through citizens proposals for a children’s play park.

“Ikiru”, written and directed by Akira Kurosawa, who worked on the screenplay with Shinobu Hashimoto and Hideo Oguni, is a perfectly balanced human drama, creating a timeless character in Watanabe. He is a man who finds himself in a familiar position, having given 25 years of his life to a job that he has little personal interest in, for a son who seems not to care for him, while doing little for himself. The stomach cancer, while a tragic occurence, spurs him to action. The central performance by Takashi Shimura is wonderfully nuanced, as he copes with feelings of fear, regret, and loneliness, balanced by occasional levity and a hard-headed determination that grows with the acceptance of his morality. The supporting cast play off him excellently, never detracting from his struggle, but offering a reflective mirror through which to see Watanabe. Shimura’s Watanabe looks to them for some sort of answer to his question of what he should be doing with the short time he has left. Each has their own perspective, showing that there are no easy answers for Watanabe, but at the same time they encourage him to see the value of pursuing something meaningful to him. The story is told with ample use of montages, giving a sense of a bustling world and creating a fully rounded character in Watanabe. In his relationship with Toyo and Mitsuo, we see the various aspects that make up a person, and in the later flashbacks as his colleagues remember him we get a similar sense of his character. In Watanabe’s final moments, we also see the importance of personal happiness, in fulfilling something you know is worthwhile, in spite of what others say about you, or whether you receive credit for it.

Kurosawa’s direction with cinematographer Asakazu Nakai produces some incredibly evocative moments, with the sillhouetted figures on the bridge, the office that is creaking under the weight of piled papers reflecting the enormity of concepts such as time and mortality. The script avoids unnecessary exposition, instead focussing on the human reactions to tragedy. Watanabe never explicitly states why he changed his opinion on life, or suddenly found a second wind, but it is made clear through Shimuras performance and his encounters with the other characters. Toyo showing him the children’s toy her factory makes is another great example of the film guiding us through visually and emotionally, as well as his nickname is ‘The Mummy’, which needs no further explanation. A stunning rumination on mortality and humanity that has an inspiring message for viewers depsite the seemingly depressing themes. The title of the film says it clearest, this is not a film about dying, but about living.

Somebody’s Flowers (2021) by Yusuke Okuda

A sombre drama about loss and dementia. Takaaki’s (Shinsuke Kato) is left to look after his elderly parents after his brother Kento dies in a car accident. His father Tadayoshi (Choei Takahashi) has dementia, often wandering off, calling Takaaki by his brother’s name, and forgetting what he is doing; while his wife Machi (Kazuko Yoshiyuki) does her best to care for him. When a new family, the Kusumotos, move into their apartment block, tragedy strikes when the father is fatally injured by a falling flower pot, leaving his wife, Akari (Misa Wada), and young son, Sota (Ruse Ota), to cope with his loss. Takaaki begins to suspect that it may have been Tadayoshi who dropped the flower pot, although his father shows no signs of remembering the incident. Takaaki attempts to protect his father by lying and terminating the contract of his home helper, Satomi (Honoka Murakami), who is also suspicious.

Written and directed by Yusuke Okuda, based on personal experience of a family member with dementia, “Somebody’s Flowers” is an often touching and tragic drama that looks at a serious social issue. The depiction of Tadayoshi’s condition is sensitive while tackling the strain it puts on his wife and son. Choei Takahashi’s performance as the elderly Tadayoshi, with unsure steps, repetitive statements, and absent expression, capture the peculiar vulnerability of those suffering memory loss. The rest of the cast, Kazuko Yoshiyuki as his loving wife, and Takaaki as his morally conflicted son, whose feelings towards his father move from exasperation to concern, do a fantastic job creating a sense of a family unit doing their best to carry on after the death of Kento and the deteriorating condition of Tadayoshi. The film’s inciting incident, the death of Akari and Sota’s father and husband, gives the film a semblance of plot, but for the most part it is a more documentary-like exploration of these characters and their experiences. The scenes at the grief councelling group consolidate this documentary style as the participants give their thoughts on bereavement. “Somebody’s Flowers” leaves the audience to decide where they stand on the issues presented, particularly concerning the guilt of Tadayoshi, while creating scenes that brim with emotionality. The direction and framing heighten the impact of each scene, with an emphasis on character viewpoints guiding the audience through and offering varied perspectives on what has happened. The minimalist score breaks in rarely to set the scene, but never undermines the realism of the story. A scene late in the film, in which Tadayoshi believes he is talking to his lost son Kento, and encourages Takaaki to speak with his brother, is effecting in its simplicity and again succeeds on the strength of the main cast, capturing the complex emotions of the characters.

“Somebody’s Flowers” is a film in the vein of Koji Fukada’s “Harmonium”, dealing with a difficult social issue, with a story that doesn’t attempt to sensationalise or rationalise on behalf of the characters. We are presented with a situation that engenders sympathy for the protagonists, struggling with dementia and taking care of someone with the condition. It asks difficult questions about guilt, blame and responsibility, loyalty, loss and forgiveness. In the case of Tadayoshi he is incapable of taking responsibility for his actions, almost childlike in his innocence and unconscious of his own actions. In the survivor’s group we see people still struggling to forgive the perpetrators of the accidents that took their loved ones; while Takaaki must contemplate the possibility that his father is a murderer (albeit unwittingly). “Somebody’s Flowers” creates a powerful emotional drama about death and dementia that asks the audience to consider their own feelings on the issues it raises.

Bittersand (2021) by Tomoya Sugimoto

When scurrilous rumours are written about high-school student Eriko (Ayane Kinoshita), classmate Akito (Yuki Inoue) decides to take the blame. This seemingly frivolous decision leads to seven years of regret as Akito is unable to forget what happened following the incident. Now grown up, Akito’s friend, Yusuke (Riku Hagiwara), an amateur film-maker suggests using their high-school experiences as the focus of a documentary, and the two attend a reunion with plans of revealing all about what really happened.

“Bittersand”, requires suspension of disbelief that the rumours surrounding Eriko would have led to her total ostracisation and would still be relevant to the characters seven years later. Sadly, the moment of revelation is more likely to provoke a shrug rather than any sense of surprise. If something more serious than the juvenile relationship troubles and teenage pregnancy were the reason for the class still harbouring any interest in what happened, it could have been more impactful. The film itself even appears to acknowledge this with one fellow former-student laughing off Akito and Yusuke’s presentation and wondering why the others aren’t willing to simply get on with the reunion afterwards. The film misses a chance to focus on things that would be more interesting, such as why one characters physical appearance changes drastically, how one character managed to raise a child as a teen mother, or even giving us an insight into how the original incident affected the characters. The film is not all bad, with a mixed bag of performances, and some great direction. Perhaps the worst you could say about the film is that it is underwhelming; that it answers questions that the audience weren’t interested in asking.

One of the themes of “Bittersand” is how memories and experiences can linger and affect our later lives. Even something as seemingly insignificant as the events of Akito’s high-school years stay with him. The use of frequent flashbacks is an effective way to show this, emphasising the idea that past and present are inextricably interlinked, and our consciousness often drifts from one to the other without distinction. As discussed the film often misses out on exploring its most interesting elements. The ideas of infidelity, regret, the importance of the truth and the impact of malicious rumours, and the unreliability of memories, are left to wither on the vine. A fairly innocuous young adult melodrama that will appeal to people who like high-school gossip. The moment of exposure, with a criminal investigation style chart up on the blackboard is absurdly over-the-top, perhaps suggesting that the film is intentionally comedic.