White Mulberry Award for First Time Director Nominee
Before Next Spring
如果有一天我将会离开你 (Ru Guo You Yi Tian Wo Jiang Hui Li Kai Ni)
China, 2021, 105’, Mandarin, Japanese
Directed by: Li Gen
Script: Li Gen
Producer: Wang Hongwei
Production Company: Xiang Xiang Shi Dai Entertainment Culture Media (Beijing) Co. Cast: Qi Xi, Xie Chengze, Niu Chao, Qiu Tian, Song Ningfeng
Date of First Release in Territory: TBA
The relationship between China and Japan is intriguing, to say the least: although the two peoples are linked by great cultural affinities, the two nations are historically antagonistic; this creates complicated dynamics not
only in diplomatic relations but in personal ones too. However, trade relations between the two countries are very close, and the number of Chinese students studying Japanese and vice versa is considerable. Before Next Spring is the story of a group of these students, and is based on the direct experience of Li Gen, the film’s director and screenwriter, who lived as a foreign student in Japan for a year.
The film, Li’s first feature, is a fresco of the daily life of a group of young Chinese people in a Tokyo suburb; their story is told through a series of minor actions, some moments of intimacy and others of despair, especially of great loneliness and nostalgia, not to mention fear of returning home. The group is made up of contrasting personalities who react differently to the circumstances they find themselves in. One thing they have in common is that they all live on the margins of society, juggling work and their studies, and have no clear idea what their futures hold, especially those who do not yet have a residence permit.
Their social lives revolve around a Chinese restaurant, Nankokute, where they all work. The manager of the restaurant has been in Japan for several years but she can’t get a permanent residence permit, she has a boyfriend she would like to start a family with, but he is an undocumented immigrant, restless and somewhat arrogant, who has to hide every time there is an inspection. The cook is an older man, who left his wife and children in China several years ago but has not yet managed to bring them over from Japan, and no longer knows if this is what he really wants.
The waiters are two young men: Li Xiaoli has just arrived for a year of study, leaving behind a sick father and an apprehensive mother in China; he is constantly asking the gods for mercy for his father. He is very enterprising and seems to have decided to stay in Japan at all costs. The other waiter is the only one who seems to be in the clear because his father is Japanese, a fact that the boy seems to be proud of: he flaunts his mastery of the language, is a bit of a show-off and is desperately jealous of Li Xiaoli, who is friends with the girl he is secretly in love with. But in reality he is the worst off of all of them: his father is an alcoholic, he has abandoned his family to remarry a Japanese woman, he is violent with his son who can’t forgive him for the wrongs he has endured and ends up robbing him.
All the characters display condescending if not openly hostile attitudes in their contacts with the Japanese population, but at the same time they meet some individuals who, like them, live on the margins of society and with whom they establish a relationship of compassion, kindness and respect. In a constant state of insecurity due not only to the precarious situation they find themselves in, but also to unexpected health or sentimental problems, they find solace in the human kindness they manage to show each other. The only person who seems to have taken on board all the problems of adaptation and transformed them into the wisdom of everyday life is a Chinese teacher – a cameo by Sylvia Chang, excellent as always – who has lived there for many years, and who is now resigned to a life where it seems impossible to provide a definitive answer to the question “where is home?” The style of the film is minimalist, no frills, a typical indie production – one of the film’s producers is Wang Hongwei, an icon of independent Chinese cinema – with touching moments and a general atmosphere of authenticity and naturalness.
After obtaining a degree in languages in Japanese at the Beijing Language and Culture University, Li Gen (Beijing, 1987) continued his studies at the Beijing Film Academy, earning a master’s degree in directing in 2013.
2013 – One Night (short)
2021 – Before Next Spring