Chris Knipp Writing: Movies, Politics, Art

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PostPosted: Sat Aug 29, 2020 7:11 pm 
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Family dynamic not improved by spousal murder

The screenplay of One Night was written by Shiraishi’s collaborator Takahashi Izumi and based on a 2011 play by Kuwabara Yuko. Shiraishi's a bit of a NYAFF bad boy (we know him from The Blood of Wolves and Dare to Stop Us ), and here returns with a multilayered meditation on the stigma of violence. This time he focuses on a family.

The film opens with a flashback to a stormy night when Koharu (Yuko Tanaka) returns home, in mannish taxi driver garb, to inform the three children that to eliminate the family's pain and suffering she has murdered their violent, abusive father by running over him with her taxi. She will turn herself in now, and will go to jail, but they are free. She promises to come back in a decade - no, make that fifteen years - to rejoin them. Meanwhile they will be safe and can pursue their lives unimpeded.

Well, Koharu has made a brave sacrifice, but of course she's left her two sons and daughter to grow up without a mother and father and in the shadow of yet another trauma. It turns out that in the absence of the parents their mother's family runs the provincial taxi company and takes care of the kids. But in the wake of the ugly physical abuse of the murdered father (of which we get a hideous glimpse) and the outsider status bestowed upon them by having a murderer for a mother, the three kids aren't exactly what you'd call lucky, or the town's favorite young people.

We quickly jump forward fifteen years, when Kooharu appears, looking totally gray and surprisingly neat and respectable. It seems she has spent several years since her release working at different jobs elsewhere but they haven't been in touch. She hesitated to come back, she says, but she has kept her promise. She had reason to hesitate.

Now we meet the three offspring as they are now. Yuji (Takeru Satoh), the talented, smart one, has a dashing, saturnine appearance and a chip on his shoulder and is cultivating literary fantasies while actually working for a porn mag in Tokyo - where a scene shows his lowly status. He's come back back home to the provinces now for the first time in a while to meet mom, but he's the least happy with her return, or with anything. He's meanwhile gathering data on the family scandals and horrors for a planned novel, taking constant snapshots of the family scene with his smartphone as part of the preparation. As for the tall, still stuttering Daiki (Ryohei Suzuki), he is in a foundering marriage to a wife whose family business he's been working at, though the wife wants to divorce him and leave, taking their little girl with them. A brief scene fills us in on that.

Most positive - she insists their mother did save them from a much worse life - is the daughter, Sonoko (Mayu Matsuoka),a pretty young woman who dreamed of being a hairdresser, and was a hostess at a snack bar, but lately, as she tells Yuji, focuses on being a call girl, an "escort," if you like, while getting drunk every night at a karaoke bar.

Koharu's brother's family, who've been running the taxi company successfully, seem more happy to see her. We meet some of them. Yumi (Mariko Tsutsui) is having an affair while caring for her senile mother-in-law. Michio/Doushita (Kuranosuke Sasaki) is a new driver. He arrives around the same time that Koharu does, looking a bit the worse for wear but mercurial and all smiles. He doesn't drink, do drugs, or gamble, which got him hired right away. But following scenes where he's reunited with his teenage son after a long separation and encounters an unwelcome former colleague, it emerges that he has a problematic past of his own that he's trying to escape from.

Whatever the family or taxi firm employees may think or however well they get along with Koharu, the locals of this provincial town quickly grow hostile to Koraru's return when they hear of it: her presence, seen from a slight distance but still too close for them, is a scandal. Local news has reported on it and little flyers multiply around the taxi company broadcasting that there's a murderess, a husband-killer, in town. The siblings hasten to clean up the company vehicles that they awaken to find covered in abusive white graffiti. If this film is good at anything, it's mess: cluttered, disorganized rooms, littered spaces, graffiti-covered walls and vehicles are, perversely, a delight to the eye. Sometimes the Japanese seem to be reacting to the design austerity of their traditional culture, the empty tatami-spread rooms, the rolled-away futons. Of the graffiti-decorated cars, Yuji takes snapshots with his phone, but promises his saying it's to show Koharu is only a joke.

Koharu's return is a classic gesture for a play. It causes all the old traumas to come back to mind. Realized cinematically it also brings about a lot of things - like the abusive fliers and graffiti. Perhaps the cathartic reconciliation wold work better on the stage. But what Shiraishi can provide that a playwright can't is another big storm outside.

James Hadfield of [url=""]The Japan Times[/url], who calls this "the most conventional thing [Shiraishi has] done to date," sees this a treatment of themes Kazuya cares about: "whether the ends ever justify the means, and if there’s any hope for people who commit awful deeds. He thinks that some of the early scenes show "taut execution" but finds the climax to be "a disappointing mess." An Italian critic (the film debuted at Udine) calls it "hasty" and says that's the "only fault." Well, the finale is busy. Some of the physical clutter that provides the film with its pleasingly icky contemporary texture may seem to pour over into overelaborate action. But nonetheless those final minutes are cathartic. There's nothing like family for drama.

One NIght ひとよ (Shiraishi Kazuya 2019), 123 mins., debuted Oct. 2019 at Tokyo, showing Nov. 2019 at Taipei, and included in the online Jun.-Jul.2020 Udine Festival. It was screened for this review as part of the virtual 2020 New York Asian Film Festival (Aug. 28-Sept. 12, 2020).

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