Follow the Light (2021) by Yoichi Narita

Having moved back to his father’s hometown in rural Akita, Akira (Tsubasa Nakajima) is struggling to make friends at school. One day on his walk home he sees a girl standing on the roof of a farmhouse. The girl, Maki (Itsuki Nagasawa), has been absent from the local middle-school after attacking a fellow student and has no apparent desire to return. Akira also makes friends with a bullied student called Tamura (Kyohei Shimokawa). After a UFO sighting above the town, Akira, Maki and Tamura find a crop circle in the field nearby Maki’s home. The middle-school is due to close soon due to lack of students and funds.

“Follow the Light”, directed by Yoichi Narita with a screenplay by Narita and Yu Sakudo, is a plaintive love letter to the rural magnificence of Akita. Alongside the beauty of wide wheat fields there is a sadness that the community seems to be slowly drifting away. Akira’s father (Taro Suruga) and Maki’s absent parents both represent this desire of many to leave behind the quiet country life for the opportunities of Tokyo or other large cities. A side-story involving the homeroom teacher (Rina Ikoma), who also dreams of leaving the town, further adds to this sense of a community that is slowly disappearing as people move away. A beautiful, groaning, melancholy score perfectly captures the sense of scale and unease, the natural beauty alongside the characters ennui and longing for something more.

The film works simply as an ode to this region of Japan, highlighting the stunning vistas of Akita, with magnificent sunsets blazing over golden fields of crops. It also raises questions of community, with the students and teachers being microcosms of wider society, some desperate to escape what they percieve as a mundane everyday life while others cling to their hometown, desperately searching for some way to continue there. The film’s science-fiction elements, the UFO sighting and crop circle, are in fact more thematic tools to emphasise this sense of something intangible and ineffable that characterises the community. It is almost a meta-reflection on the film’s own themes that remain subtle, using the individual character journeys to tell a broader story about the problems faced by such communities. A meaningful tale of small-town unease and the tensions that exist in such places.