Film Review: All Around Us

Bottom Line: A soul-stirring portrait of married life, for worse or better

Venue: Toronto International Film Festival

TOKYO, Japan -- Charting the highs and lows of a 10-year marriage is a film subject as prosaic as a TV ad for life insurance, but in the hands of Ryosuke Hashiguchi ("Hush"), it is nothing short of transcendent. "All Around Us" connects intense personal experiences with the troubled zeitgeist of Japan's post-bubble '90s. Despite taking characters to the emotional deep end, it offers optimism as precious and fragile as the human bonds it depicts.

The film enjoyed an unexpectedly long run domestically, but its gently undulating rhythm and self-effacing style may not catch the eye of auteur-hungry viewers. Making its overseas debut at Toronto gives it the recognition it deserves.

We enter the lives of Kanao (Lily Franky) and Shoko (Tae Kimura) in 1993 as the newlyweds strive to conceive. Subtitles indicate keystone years, such as Kanao's new job as a court illustrator, Shoko's descent into depression after their baby's death and family gatherings that are by turns tense and tender. In the courtroom, (fact-based) trials of lurid crimes and sordid corporate corruption form a grim undercurrent that accentuates the couple's defeated morale, until a vow of committment heralds a moving transformation.

Verbally, the film sustains a graceful, sometimes heartbreaking silence, but images orchestrate a symphony of feeling. Kanao's mechanical sketches of intractable criminals and hysterical victims contrast starkly with Shoko's exuberant drawings of flora and fauna. Both mirror their states of mind. Body motions become poetic tools of self-expression. In a scene denoting ineffable joy, a pregnant Shoko strokes Kanao's back during a stroll. Toward the end, they lie on a temple tatami, closeups of their feet entwined playfully together evoke renewed love and desire.

Celebrity artist Lily Franky makes a startling screen debut. His awkwardness in front of the camera actually gives him authenticity as the homey, taciturn Kanao. Veteran Kimura conveys an unpredictable rawness beyond professional pitch-perfection. Supporting performances also are as natural as breathing. The limpid cinematography has the fluidity of water colors, connecting changing moods like a ride through the tunnel into emerging light.

Cast: Lily Franky, Tae Kimura, Mitsuko Baisyo, Susumu Terajima, Akira Emoto.  Production: Siglo/Bitters End/Eisei Gekijo/Amuse Soft Entertainment/Hokuhodo DY Media Partners. Director/screenwriter/editor: Ryosuke Hashiguchi. Producera: Eiji Watanabe, Tetsujiro Yamagami. Director of photography: Shogo Ueno. Production designer: Toshihiro Isomi. Costume designer: Kumiko Ogawa. Music: Akeboshi.  Sales: Celluloid Dreams No rating, 140 minutes.
comments powered by Disqus