When a film gets short-listed for the Academy Awards one can’t help but be intrigued. When a film has Best Director and Best International feature attached to it, it certainly makes it all more desirable. For female director Mipo O (Here comes the Bride, My Mom!) it seems she has struck gold with audiences and critics alike. Albeit, The Light Shines Only There, lacks a certain substance in an otherwise carefully paced drama.
When it comes to romance and drama it’s hard to think that we haven’t seen it all before. We see the same format countless amounts of times, the same plot elements and audiences will still go to see them time after time. The Light Shines Only There, is no exception to this equation of boy meets girl, yet what writer Ryo Takada does with Yasushi Sato’s original work is rather interesting. Set in Hokkaido, the narrative follows the reclusive Tatsuo (Gou Ayano: Mother, The Long Goodbye) who whilst wasting his money gambling meets the eccentric Takuji (Masaki Suda: Don Quixote, Princess Jellyfish) who seems to be in a worse place than Tatsuo himself. When invited back to Takuji’s shabby little family home, Tatsuo, along with the audience see how dysfunctional and quite frankly sad Takuji’s set up really is. Between his callous mother and bedridden, sex addicted father, the only light in this little shack is the pretty Chinatsu (Chizuru Ikewaki: Princess Jellyfish, The Devil’s Path), Takuji’s older sister.
Ordinarily, this immediately sets the scene for romance; yet it seems the emotionally stunted Tatsuo and the part-time prostitute Chinatsu have a lot of self-healing to do beforehand. What we are presented with is an in depth study of their emotional journeys not just towards their relationship with one another, but within themselves. What is so enticing about this elegant film is that it shows us just how visually stunning such a bleak narrative can be. The tone, the composition and indeed sullen soundtrack all marry together to give us a well rounded drama. They even achieved in making the lovers first intimate encounter with each other look like a teenagers first time, despite both of their grim and not so innocent histories.
Overall, this is a well acted, well directed piece that has certainly managed to get itself noticed. Albeit, it seems the film-makers chose style, over content. This two hour drama, doesn't fail entirely at keeping you enthralled; yet delving into the sporadic flashbacks would have solved this flaw. This is a troubled, yet interesting look at humanities relationships, in and outside the family circle.
Directed by Mipo O
120 mins, (2014)