t.l. Una notte
Japan, 2019, 123’, Japanese
Directed by: Shiraishi Kazuya
Script: Takahashi Izumi
Photography (color): Nabeshima Atsuhiro
Editing: Kato Hitomi
Production Designer: Imamura Tsutomu
Producers: Takahashi Shinichi, Hasegawa Haruhiko, Yasuda Kunihiro
Cast: Satoh Takeru, Suzuki Ryohei, Matsuoka Mayu, Sasaki Kuranosuke, Tanaka Yuko, Otoo Takuma, Tsutsui Mariko, Asari Yosuke, Kan Hanae, Megumi
Date of First Release in Territory: November 8th, 2019
Premiere status: European Premiere
Just about every Japanese director of note attempts a family drama – a core genre of Japanese cinema since forever. Shiraishi Kazuya reached that point after winning accolades for films about people on the margins of society or the wrong side of the law, from his 2013 breakout The Devil’s Path to his 2018 cop thriller The Blood of Wolves, both of which screened at Udine FEFF.
His source material for his family drama One Night was a 2011 play by veteran scriptwriter and playwright Kuwabara Yuko about a mother returning home to her three grown children fifteen years after killing their father. This is not a story Ozu Yasujiro, that master of the family drama, would have filmed, but its focus on human extremes was perfect for Shiraishi.
The film he made, scripted by frequent collaborator Takahashi Izumi, is not only a drama of one family’s woes. As he has done in previous films, One Night examines larger moral and social issues, including the right of a woman to defend herself and her children against a violently abusive partner, if without any obvious message. Instead, it complicates a story that starts to unfold in black and white: Husband, bad; wife, good.
The setting is a small taxi company in the provinces. One night in a driving rain on the company lot, the wife, Koharu (Tanaka Yuko), hits and kills her husband with her cab. She then tells her three teenaged children – Daiki, Yuji and Sonoko – that she will turn herself in to the police. She promises to return in fifteen years, following her release from prison. “Live how you want,” she tells them. “You’re free.”
But this freedom turns out to be that of the outcast. Shunned by the local community as the offspring of a murderer, Sonoko (Matsuoka Mayu) becomes a call girl, Yuji (Satoh Takeru), a writer for a trashy tabloid in Tokyo and Daiki (Suzuki Ryohei), the manager of a small electrical goods store with a wife (Megumi) who wants to divorce him. All three bear psychological scars: Daiki stutters, Sonoko drinks and Yuji hates his mother, as well as most of the rest of the human race.
And then, just as she promised, Koharu returns and decides to stay. The cab company staff, including an eager new driver, Doushita (Sasaki Kuranosuke), welcomes her, but her reception from her children is mixed. Sonoko considers her a victim worthy of sympathy; Yuji views her as an agent of destruction who ruined their lives. Meanwhile, his wife’s demand for a divorce drives Daiki to the verge of a breakdown – and he lashes out at her with violence reminiscent of his father’s.
Shiraishi films this story with the gritty energy and sharp eye for hidden truths that are his trademarks, as well as touches of earthy humor that take the edge off the at-time grim proceedings. He also has an excellent cast led by veteran Tanaka Yuko, who plays the aged Koharu as battered but defiant. “I did the right thing,” she tells a skeptical Yuji. And we believe her.
Shiraishi Kazuya was born in Hokkaido in 1974. In 2009, he made his feature debut with Lost Paradise in Tokyo. His 2013 crime thriller The Devil’s Path became a critical and commercial success. Birds Without Names, a 2017 relationship drama, won many domestic awards. In 2018 he released The Blood of Wolves, starring Yakusho Koji as a roguish veteran cop who seems to be working on both sides of the law, and Dare to Stop Us, a drama about the circle around rebel director Wakamatsu Koji in the 1960s and 1970s. His most recent film, the dark family drama One Night, opened in Japan in November 2019.
2009 – Lost Paradise in Tokyo
2013 – The Devil’s Path
2016 – Twisted Justice
2017 – Dawn of the Felines
2017 – Birds Without Names
2018 – Sunny/32
2018 – The Blood of Wolves
2018 – Dare to Stop Us
2019 – One Night