Tokyo has been mythologized in varied ways from without – a city of electrified neon excess, of constant movement, of individuals toiling tirelessly, head down minding their own business as they move between work and home. THE TOKYO NIGHT SKY IS ALWAYS THE DENSEST SHADE OF BLUE captures some of these notions, but it is a refreshingly homegrown perspective from which the city ‘s character is eschewed.
It also weaves the tale of two individuals with strident characteristics whom circumstance would push toward one other in something like a romantic entanglement. Mika (Shizuka Ishibashi) works as a nurse, as well as part time at a hostess bar, and holds a dour outlook on life, which seems to be informed by her upbringing. She is a mainly solitary figure whose point of view we often learn via internal monologues. Otherwise, her conversations often veer toward the subject of death. Shinji (Sosuke Ikematsu) works in construction. He is jovial toward his peers and, with vision out of one eye impaired, seems afflicted with a form of autism. His conversation is stilted and then comes tumbling out, often harping on a point passionately though it may be of little concern to his peers. The pair’s quirks make the forging of a new relationship a challenge, not to mention daily life in Tokyo particularly burdensome. Yet unlike in other tales of individuals struggling against the grain, Ishii’s rendering suggests that Mika and Shinji do in fact do a good job of blending in. They do not make a scene, save for Shinji’s stream of conscious utterances that occasionally stir the ire of the more alpha male type among his construction site colleagues, and if not for our look at their inner thoughts, they seem adept at getting by and sustaining themselves in Tokyo’s disinterested landscape. Yet this does not mean happiness figures into the equation of adapting to the codes of being young and alone there. It lends to the suggestion of some woeful realities facing a young generation of workers in this major city. The pair’s push and pull toward each other navigates a path that speaks volumes on the preoccupations of a generation: grim worldwide statistics being the click of a smartphone button away, while death is an entity forever looming near that can strike at any moment.
Yuya Ishii, the director whose previous film was the meticulously told The Great Passage, unspools his latest feature with nearly as much patience, though in a far more cryptic nature, standing in firm defiance of the notion that for a story to be powerful, things must constantly be happening. No doubt owing to its source material, a collection of poems by young Kobe-based writer Tahi Saihate. Some characters we meet make the briefest of impressions, a young man for instance, quietly enduring the noise from a party held next door by one of Shiji’s colleagues from the Philippines. At times ponderings take the form of roughly drawn animated sequences.
It is not so much a drudgery as it is a piercing sense of isolation among throngs of people passing through. Yet a quiet beauty occasionally bleeds through, colored by washes of that titular shade of blue. Along with these swatches of color, music imbues plain scenes with a magical aura as Ishii switches between a handful of mood-setting scores. There is also a cleverly inserted catchy mantra played by a street performer, at times supporting a cynical outlook but also lending itself to moments that suggest hope for the protagonists. And Mirraz’s ‘New World’ is an unusually well-suited end credit song, with the 100 words per minute vocals matching Shinji‘s the protagonists’ verbal jousts.
Ishibashi and Ikematsu’s portrayal of Mika and Shinji, respectively, are nuanced and compelling. Relative newcomer Ishibashi thoroughly and completely channels Mika’s resolute independence. It is a particular pleasure to see the hardworking Ikematsu, who can be seen in numerous Japanese films playing cool customer and problem solver archetypes, here embodying Shinji’s fragile psyche.
For those who have fallen under the spell of a particular magic created by Asian films telling the story of loners drawn together – Last Life In The Universe, On The Castaways On The Moon come instantly to mind – not to mention the stylized portrayal of Tokyo found in Lost In Translation, THE TOKYO NIGHT SKY IS ALWAYS THE DENSEST SHADE OF BLUE is essential viewing.
THE TOKYO NIGHT SKY IS ALWAYS THE DENSEST SHADE OF BLUE is being shown as part of the Japan Cuts Festival of New Japanese Film at The Japan Society on Friday, July 14 at 8:30 pm. Click here for more information and to buy tickets.