Credit: Boku No Ohisama Production Committee/Commes des Cinemas
by Michael Sicinski Featured Festival Coverage Film

My Sunshine — Hiroshi Okuyama [Cannes ’24 Review]

May 24, 2024

The Cannes Film Festival has a reputation (not entirely undeserved) for skewing its selections toward the more abstruse, audience-unfriendly end of the international cinema spectrum. So it’s perplexing to encounter a film like My Sunshine, the sophomore feature from Japan’s Hiroshi Okuyama. Although the film ends up in a rather somber place, it’s a wholly conventional coming-of-age tale that could reasonably be called Billy Elliot on Ice.

As snow begins to fall in a small Japanese town, baseball ends and ice hockey begins. It hardly matters to Takuya (Keitatsu Koshiyama), a young lad who is equally poor at both sports. But something surprising happens as he’s leaving the rink. He sees Sakura (Nakanishi Kiara), a local figure skating competitor, training with her coach Arakawa (Sosuke Ikematsu, best known from Kore-eda’s Shoplifting). He himself was an award-winning skater in his earlier days, something about which he’s modest to a fault. His boyfriend (Wakaba Ryuuya) only happens on Arakawa’s old programs and clippings by chance, and the former skater seems vaguely embarrassed. “There weren’t many male skaters,” he avers, “so it was easy to be a champion.”

Takuya is transfixed by Sakura, and later Arakawa sees him alone on the ice, trying to perfect turns and spins. Seeing potential, he agrees to coach Takuya. Ironically, Arakawa observes that Takuya’s average hockey playing has made him a stronger skater, even if he must unlearn some bad habits. As he improves, the coach tries pairing him with Sakura as an ice dancing couple, with positive results.

My Sunshine is the sort of middlebrow film that typically gains little traction outside of Japan, and if it does, it’s usually at showcases specifically devoted to recent Japanese fare. The film is mostly by the numbers, with multiple training montages, including a sequence with the three principals acting silly to a Zombies song. It moves like Syd Field clockwork, with major incidents happening on the half-hour. And as per the title, My Sunshine is bizarrely saturated with hazy light, lending the entire film the soft-focus, pastel overtones we usually associate with hotel room art.

Then again, Okuyama shot the film himself, as well as handling its writing, editing, and directing. So there’s little question that My Sunshine is precisely the film he wanted to make. To be fair, it does have a few surprises. Most of Takuya’s family and friends are pretty supportive of his decision to figure skate, and the homophobia that eventually tanks the kids’ alliance with Arakawa comes from a source you wouldn’t necessarily expect. All the same, My Sunshine has a rather dated feel, like a gay-acceptance narrative from the early ‘90s. But considering that the global right wing is trying to roll social mores back to the Medieval period, we’ll probably be seeing a lot more films like My Sunshine, and we probably deserve to.

Published as part of Cannes Film Festival 2024 — Dispatch 2.