the tokyo night sky movie review

the tokyo night sky japanese movie review

The Tokyo Night Sky Is Always the Densest Shade of Blue

Director-screenwriter Yuya Ishii’s new movie, The Tokyo Night Sky Is Always the Densest Shade of Blue is based on a book of poems by Tahi Saihate. It also has an extremely long, and non-Google-friendly title!

The Tokyo Night Sky is an exploration of the alienation and struggles two social misfits endure growing up in the big city of Tokyo. Work is poorly paid, unsatisfying, unstable and sometimes dangerous. Life is boring, lonely and unfair. Friendships are shallow and there’s a reluctance to commit to romantic relationships. And on top of all that, it seems that life is controlled by random events – we are not in control.

themes in the tokyo night sky japanese movie

work is poorly paid, unsatisfying, unstable and sometimes dangerous

Welcome to the world of the young urban poor. Without the benefit of a university education, Mika – our early 20 something female lead, played by the excellent Shizuka Ishibashi – works as a nurse. One of her tasks is to apologise to the bereaved on the deaths of their loved ones. It’s a stable job, but doesn’t pay enough. To save money she lives in a female dorm. She takes on an evening job working as a hostess in a bar for a bit of extra cash.

Shinji, our amiable young male lead, finds himself working on construction sites. The work is allocated on a daily basis. For now there is plenty of work around as Tokyo prepares itself for the 2020 Olympics, but once the construction boom is over the demand seems less certain. Shinji and his co-workers obsess about money – will they have enough to pay their bills, and who will pay for their next drinks? On top of that the work is dangerous. Shinji himself has an accident while loading heaving bags into the back of a truck, and the eldest member of their team has severe back problems after many years working on building sites. When the older guy is no longer able to work he is given his cheque for his last day’s work, thanked, and sent on his way. What prospects for him now? How will he find work? He’ll live until he dies, he tells us.

life is boring, lonely and unfair

Mika lives in a female dorm, with a turtle as a companion. Although she claims that she does the hostess job for the money, she seems able to give the job up without obviously looking for another second job. It seems more likely that she originally took the job to fill in the evening hours, and maybe to have a bit of fun. I’m reminded of Robert de Niro’s character Travis Bickle in Taxi Driver, who wants the job driving taxis because he can’t sleep nights. The job fills up time, and in Mika’s case gives her some no-commitment, safe, male company.

When they’re not working, Shinji and friends drink to excess to escape the boredom. Mika too finds herself on a night out with a work friend, chatting up some guys. Her friend has passed out from drinking too much.

And on top of this – poorly paid, no hope boring jobs, and lonely lives – there is injustice. Mika sends some of her pay to her recently bereaved father. He fritters the money away in Pachinko parlours, and then at a family meal tells Mika that he is going to pay for her sister to go to University. You what now!? To a much lesser degree, Shinji’s workmates point out the unfairness of a system where the local workers must work on a daily basis, whereas the immigrant workforce brought in for the Tokyo Olympics construction have long-term contracts.

there’s a reluctance to commit to relationships

Both of our social misfits struggle with relationships.

Mika has abandonment issues. She believes that her mother abandoned her by committing suicide, her ex dumped her, and her new boyfriend dropped dead unexpectedly. Ok, I can see where she gets the abandonment issues! For Mika, love makes people boring, and relationships cause a lot of pain and bloodshed.

Shinji doesn’t seem to have such a deep aversion to relationships, he just isn’t very good at them. He swings from gibbering non-stop in an extremely irritating fashion, to long moody silences. When he does finally respond to a call to ‘Go For It’, he runs all the way to Mika’s flat only to be told by her that he can’t come in because she lives in a female only dorm. Disappointment, deflation.

As the pair seem to be thrown together more and more often they hover around developing a relationship without ever seeming to truly connect. Towards the end of the movie we’re told they’re getting married. mmm What could go wrong?

we are not in control

Chance plays more of a role in The Tokyo Night Sky than it does in some Romantic novels. In a city of 10 million people, our heroes are constantly finding themselves bumping into each other, and in some of the busiest places. Without these accidental connections, and without the unexpected death of Mika’s boyfriend and Shinji’s friend, it’s hard to see how the two misfits would ever get together. But maybe that’s true of many relationships, and of many successful relationships.

And the action in the movie takes place against the backdrop of the recent Japanese earthquake that devastated a large area of the country. Random natural disasters, or radiation poisoning, could take everything we’ve got away. We’re living on borrowed time until the next random event outside our control. If the poems and movies were made today, replace ‘earthquake’ and ‘radiation poisoning’ with ‘nuclear war with North Korea’. 

Another interesting exploration of the role of chance in our lives is Elizabeth Strout’s excellent Olive Kitteridge, and Lars von Trier’s movie Melancholia explores living in the shadow of a chance impending natural disaster. 

poetry

The movie, being based on a book of poems, uses some interesting verbal and visual poetic techniques in telling the story. Many of the phrases and scenes in the movie are repeated, or nearly repeated, which helps to suggest the circular nature of the lives of the main characters – never really making progress, just circling around.

The outsider, disconnected, nature of our couple in a connected, conformist society and city is beautifully illustrated in several scenes. In one the couple is frozen while busy life in Shinjuku goes on around them, and there are several scenes where busy people go around in pairs looking at their mobile phones. Connected. All dressed the same. And in pairs.

The changing power dynamics in relationships is alluded to in several scenes where the couple circle around each other on a set of steps. One starts on higher steps, moves down some steps to become closer to the other. Then the other moves away and takes a higher position. Beautiful.

review of The Tokyo Night Sky Is Always the Densest Shade of Blue

The Tokyo Night Sky is Always the Densest Shade of Blue is an excellent movie. It is beautifully filmed, beautifully acted, has some great music and explores some interesting themes. It engaged me, but I didn’t laugh or cry. Frances Ha explores some similar themes in a New York context, albeit in a more middle class, more Friends and Woody Allen style. I found myself both laughing and crying with that movie. Having said that, this is one of the best movies I’ve seen in 2017 – 9/10.

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