Chris Knipp Writing: Movies, Politics, Art

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PostPosted: Mon Jul 31, 2023 8:30 pm 
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Subtle picture of a young woman pulling away from societal pressure

This little film, Ishibashi's second feature, patiently explores the world of Nozomi Iizuka (Erika Karata of Asako I & II), a 24-year-old single woman in present-day Japan finding. her lonely way a bit outside conventional expectations. She has quit her company job and works part time at a kombini, a Yamazaki chain convenience store. Six months go by before she dares to call and tell her mother or this. She lives by herself in another town. The breakthrough is becoming friends with a junior high classmate, Kanako (Haruka Imou). She works too, but they find each other thanks to Iizuka's willingness to fill in on the night shift at the store.

Yuho Ishibashi's strength as a director is her sensitivity to the delicate unfolding of these two women to each other through their traditional Japanese shyness, the minimalism of Japanese speech. Sadly, the below-par English subtitles are not up to the job of conveying these subtleties. Luckily actions speak for themselves when Iizuka is clerking at the store, getting drunk with friends, being guided home by a cute younger male fellow employee she fancies, and later by Kanako. Kanako needs Iizuka. She says she can't connect with her former classmates. The two young women go bowling, and Iizuka is terrible: but it doesn't matter because it's the sharing that counts. Iiuka stays overnight with Kanako at her grandparents' house where she lives. It's almost a two-girl pajama party years after the age when either young women did such a thing - but we feel how they need it and benefit from it.

Iizuka's gradually developed closeness with Konoko, the time spent, the sharing about her discomfort at the company job and alienation from parents through quitting it, finally gives Iizuka the strength to call her mom and "confess." The positive slant of the film comes in her mother's gentle reception of this news: she is glad Iizuka hasn't had a child or gotten involved with a religious cult. She reassuringly tells Iizuka "You did your best," and reminds her that most of her life is still ahead of her. She promises to break the news to Iizua's father gently. A big moment in the film, simple and decisive; a sort of climax, though what has come before is more important and much more complicated.

This is a patient film, process-oriented and almost transactional. It takes a little more time, even with waking up and getting out of bed, eating breakfast, sipping ramen in the evening. Even the drunken scenes are handled tastefully. The scenes between Erika Karata and Haruka Imou are fine. It doesn't hurt that both actresses are beautiful, especially Karata, which makes everything feel more universal. This film, which has a touch of Ozu and Koreeda, is a wonder of delicacy - which good subtitles would have enabled the Anglophone viewer to appreciate further.

The soft guitar and keyboard score is appropriate but underlines a certain blandness. The film leaves questions unanswered, possibilities unexplored. As her mother says, Iizuka's life is more than half ahead of her. But what about the immediate future? Will things with the young male coworker develop? Is Iizuka going to be a convenience store clerk forever, or go back to school, like Kanako? Is this a solution or an escape? Just how shitty was her company job? Maybe we don't realize how stifling social pressures are in Japan, and this is a hint of that.

When Morning Comes, I FeelEmpty, 朝がくるとむなしくなる, 74 mins. International premiere at Japan Cuts, Japan Society, NYC Thursday, August 3, 2023, 6:00 pm.

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