In The Great Passage—a film for which Yûya Ishii won Best Director from both the Japanese Academy Awards and Kinema Junpo—the decades-long story of dictionary writers was told with a slow, patient accumulation of detail, lives and loves built out of the tiniest of gestures and moments. In adapting Tahi Saihate’s poetry collection The Tokyo Night Sky Is Always the Densest Shade of Blue, Ishii adopts a less prosaic, more eclectic style, mixing techniques and tones in an unstable but sweet story of young love. Sosuke Ikematsu plays Shinji, a young construction worker with one functioning eye who kindles a kind of romance with Mika (Shizuka Ishibashi), a nurse and occasional bartender. Both are mopey, urban-loner-lost-in-the-crowd types, characters familiar in cinema going back to Paul Fejos’s Lonesome at least. They’re haunted by death, both in their pasts (a long-lost mother) and their present (a friend and a boyfriend) and barely able to communicate (Shinji alternates between eerie muteness and non-stop babble). Ishii throws in some animated sequences, lots of rapid cityscape montages, a handful of POV shots from Shinji’s half-vision (blacking out the left side of the frame) and the occasional deadpan oddity to keep things interesting, but ultimately the desolation of the film is only leavened by the purity of its romance.
Published as part of Japan Cuts 2017.