'The Tokyo Night Sky Is Always the Densest Shade of Blue': Film Review | Berlin 2017

Courtesy of Berlinale
Some close observations redeem an uninspired tale of urban alienation.

Two young misfits fall in love against the poetic symphony of Tokyo.

An earnest, at times poetic, drama about teen alienation, The Tokyo Night Sky Is Always the Densest Shade of Blue (Yozora ha itsu demo saikou mitsudo no aoiro da) describes the on-off courtship of two social misfits whose psychological malfunctioning is a little less glaring when they are together. A far cry from the grotesque irony and horseplay of director Yuya Ishii’s 2010 Berlin Forum entry, Sawako Decides, this is a more somber, less readily likable film. The fact that the love story goes around in circles instead of developing adds to the unhappy face, though presumably Japanese teenagers yearning to break out of a social straitjacket will identify with the film's rebellious couple.

Shinji (Sosuke Ikematsu), a mop-headed construction worker who can only see out of one eye, attracts the attention of Mika (Shizuka Ishibashi), a nurse who moonlights as an entraineuse in a girlie bar. The clients aren’t allowed to touch her, so there’s nothing very risqué about this thankless job. Mika has a chip on her shoulder as big as the Tokyo Sky Tree. Much later her morbid obsession with death is traced to her feeling of abandonment when her mother died, possibly by committing suicide. She’s also emotionally crushed over being dumped by her ex, though he sends her texts saying he still loves her.

Enter Shinji, an ultra-nice loser whose temp work on construction sites for the 2020 Tokyo Olympics is realistically portrayed as underpaid, back-breaking labor. His honest camaraderie with three working buddies is the most convincing and touching part of the film. One is a Filipino who pines for his wife and child back home; one a middle-aged man whose back is literally broken from years of heavy lifting. The last, the unfortunate Tomoyuki (Ryuhei Matsuda), is snappish, short-tempered and short-lived.

Shinji is characterized by either talking too much or not at all; neither ingratiates him with the viewer. He too has an almost-ex in the wings, a pretty girl who claims she went to law school in the States, before admitting it’s not true. A delightfully wry scene recounts their inconclusive grab in a hotel room, which turns into one more failure in the boy’s life when the girl realizes her high school crush is a nobody.

Luckily there’s morbid Miki, who is at least cool and real. While love is presented as a way forward, it’s doubtful it will take him out of the poverty and uncertainty that dog his life, or cure the emotional inadequacy that paralyzes her. The prospect of an imminent earthquake appears to frighten them both. Their final conclusion is to give love a try, while a street singer grimly sings the same annoying song about sweat under her armpits and becomes a metaphor for their struggle.

Visually the film is not bad, with cinematographer Yoichi Kamakari turning gray Tokyo into a thousand colors in an impressionist collage of soft-focused lights and digital tricks. Meanwhile, crowds shuffle down the street with their eyes fixed on cellphones, forgetting to look up at the wonders in the sky.

Production companies: Little More, Film-Makers, TV Tokyo
Cast: Shizuka Ishibashi, Sosuke Ikematsu, Tetsushi Tanaka, Ryuhei Matsuda, Paul Magsalin, Mikako Ichikawa, Ryo Sato, Takahiro Miura
Director-screenwriter: Yuya Ishii
Director of photography: Yoichi Kamakari
Production designers: Syun Sasaki, Daichi Watanabe
Editor: Shinichi Fushima
Music: Takashi Watanabe
Venue: Berlin Film Festival (Forum Expanded)
Sales: Pia Film Festival

108 minutes

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