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One of a number of films premiering in Tokyo this year to deal with the fallout from the March 11 earthquake, Since Then uses the disaster as a catalyst for a heartfelt but frustratingly inert study of a fracturing relationship.
Returning to the themes of mental illness and estrangement that informed his festival-favorite debut Okaeri, Japanese indie director Makoto Shinozaki here distances the audience through a painstakingly spare use of action and dialogue. Molasses-slow and oddly detached from its context, his melancholy mood piece, a collaboration with The Film School of Tokyo, will likely struggle to spark outside Japan following its premiere in the festival’s Japanese Eyes section.
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As aftershocks rattle the city, Shoko (Aya Takekou) shuttles in a kind of dream state between her spartan Tokyo apartment, where a dainty bird mobile draws the eye, and her job at a specialist shoe store. She lives alone and her first thought is for her boyfriend, Masashi (Yasuhiro Isobe), who lives in the worst-hit region, Tohoku. Obsessively checking her cell phone for news, she finally makes contact with his brother and learns that the earthquake has tipped Masashi into a delusional state in which he believes the catastrophe was his fault.
Shoko is urged to end the relationship for her own sake, but can’t just quit Masashi so easily. Through inelegantly integrated flashbacks, Shinozaki lets us know Shoko’s pre-earthquake beau was a kind and thoughtful man who helped her through the death of her mother three years earlier, and that the two used to share a laugh. There is scant levity to be found elsewhere, although a joke about the inadvisability of a champagne tower prompts nervous laughter among the guests at a wedding held soon after the quake.
Aya Takekou conveys great sadness as Shoko, a woman helplessly in love with someone struggling with psychological demons, and Yasuhiro Isobe gives a convincingly mercurial portrayal of instability when Masashi suddenly appears unannounced in her apartment. Pale lighting and a subdued palette create a suitably desolate mood as the two struggle to reach across a great emotional divide while still more tremors shake the walls.
At just over an hour in length, Since Then takes a few easy shortcuts and uses some rather heavy-handed symbolism – Shoko’s job at a store specializing in orthotics for damaged soles, for instance. Using a minimum of brushstrokes, Shinozaki, a former cinema projectionist and film journalist, has given us a rough sketch instead of a portrait.
Production company: Comteg
Cast: Aya Takekou, Yasuhiro Isobe, Mie Ohta, Tomoki Kimura, Yohta Kawase
Director: Makoto Shinozaki
Screenwriters: Makoto Shinozaki, Zenzo Sakai
Producer: Hiroko Matsuda
Director of photography: Tatsuya Yamada
Music: Mie Yanashita
Sales: Comteg, Tokyo
No rating, 63 minutes
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