Phases of the Moon
月の満ち欠け (Tsuki no Michikake)
Japan, 2022, 128’, Japanese
Directed by: Hiroki Ryuichi
Screenplay: Hashimoto Hiroshi
Photography (color): Mizuguchi Noriyuki
Editing: Nomoto Minoru
Art Direction: Maruo Tomoyuki
Music: Fukushige Mari
Producers: Aragaki Hirotaka, Endo Hitoshi
Executive Producers: Yoshida Shigeaki, Tsutsui Ryuhei
Cast: Oizumi Yo, Ito Sairi, Shibasaki Ko, Kikuchi Hinako, Meguro Ren, Arimura Kasumi
Date of First Release in Territory: December 2nd, 2022
Belief in reincarnation is widespread in South and East Asia, but less so in the West. So Hiroki Ryuichi’s multilayered drama Phases of the Moon, in which reincarnation is a central theme, may not easily cross certain cultural and religious barriers.
Not that the film, based on a bestselling novel by Sato Shogo, proselytizes for a given religion. Instead, it treats reincarnation as a fact – one that the protagonist, a former elite salaryman who lost his wife and teenage daughter in a tragic accident, can’t readily accept.
A veteran maker of commercial romantic dramas and acclaimed indie films, Hiroki brings his usual sensitive visual touch and tasteful musical approach to this material, with vocalist and songwriter Fukushige Mari providing a poignant musical counterpoint to the on-screen action. But if you find the idea of dead people speaking through the living odd or unsettling, this film may give you some queasy moments. Nonetheless, its take on the subject is revealing, bringing to the surface deep-seated beliefs that are often unspoken in Japan.
We first meet the protagonist, Osanai Kei (Oizumi Yo), in 2007 as a fishery worker in his native Hachinohe, a port in Japan’s north. The scene soon shifts to the city of Tama in Tokyo, where he meets Midorizaka Yui (Ito Sairi), a 20-something mother, and her young daughter, Ruri, in a hotel lounge. Roll back the years to 1980, when Kei weds Kozue (Shibasaki Ko), a college classmate, and not long after has a daughter with her, also named Ruri. In 1988, Kozue notices that Ruri is acting oddly mature while demonstrating uncanny abilities in drawing and English.
Then the girl runs away. When a worried Kei comes to pick her up after an alert cop spots her near a record shop, she strangely tells him, “I’ll never forget the kind things you did.” Flash forward to 1999 when Ruri (Kikuchi Hinako), now a teenager, is best pals with high school classmate Yui (Ito again) to whom she divulges a secret: She is not what she seems. Then soon after, both Ruri and Kozue die – or do they?
There is much more to the story, including a doomed romance in the early 1980s between an earnest record store employee (Meguro Ren) and a conflicted older woman named – what else? – Ruri (Arimura Kasumi).
For all its layers of plot and shifts back and forth in time, the film keeps its narrative lines clear. As Yui, the talented Ito serves as a reliable, if at times disconcerting, navigator to not only the tangled story but also the mysteries of reincarnation. Meanwhile, Oizumi, who usually appears in lighter roles, movingly embodies Kei’s stages of grief with little overemoting. For that, he should probably thank Hiroki, who has a way of drawing career-best performances from his stars.
Will Phases of the Moon convince audiences that reincarnation is real? Perhaps, just as The Sixth Sense made some viewers doubt their disbelief in ghosts – at least until the lights went up.
BIO & FILMOGRAPHY: see 800 Two-Lap Runners