Thursday, September 4, 2008

TIFF'08 REVIEW: All Around Us - Ryosuke Hashiguchi (2008)

Reviewed by Chris MaGee

The picture that the movies so often paint of love is a soft focus combination of an almost mystical union of souls, hours of championship lovemaking and a level of obsession that normally precipitates taking out a restraining order. Yes, LOVE big, bold and in upper case can be magical, horny and close to insanity. We wouldn't fall in love if it wasn't, but love in lower case, the familiarity and trust that comes after the hormones die down, has been soarly under-represented on movie screens. Ryosuke Hashiguchi, the director who brought us 2001's "Hush!" remedies this cinematic imbalance beautifully with his most recent film "All Around Us."

Lily Franky (Blind Beast vs. Killer Dwarf) and Tae Kimura (Densha Otoko, Kaidan) star as Sato and Shoko, an average couple in their early 30's whose relationship Hashiguchi charts over a nine year period. We're first introduced to the two in 1993 when level-headed Shoko is working at a small publishing house while Sato is holding down a job at a shoe repair stall. They're engaged despite the fact that Sato still has a wandering eye for the ladies and Shoko's family feels that she can do a lot better than this scruffy young man. Despite these obstacles the two are seriously in upper case LOVE, averaging sex three times a week ( a schedule strictly enforced by tiny red "X" stickers Shoko puts on the calendar) and both eagerly await the birth of their first child. It's this child and a tip that Sato gets from an old friend about a job as a courtroom sketch artist that will ultimately change their lives and the direction of the rest of the film.

The story jumps ahead a year and immediately we see that Sato and Shoko's situation has indeed changed. The "X" stickers are absent from the calendar and a small altar has been erected in the corner of their apartment dedicated to the "memory of our infant girl." Despite this terrible loss Sato has made the transition from slacker to responsible sketch artist, rushing to make tight deadlines at the courthouse with his newfound friends and colleagues. Meanwhile Shoko is trying desperately to maintain some appearance of normalcy at work and at home even though the grief caused by the death of her infant daughter has nearly hollowed her out.

Upper case LOVE has been dulled by life's cruel realities and now love's stubborn endurance must take over. Hashiguchi takes us ahead at intervals as Sato's life is marked by high profile trials based on actual court cases (the sarin gas attacks of 1995, the trial of an otaku who beheads a little girl), while Shoko's is marked by her slow slide into a crippling depression. Despite the true to life, but dramatically puzzling choice of giving Franky and Kimura very few scenes together to present emotional distance when the director does put them opposite each other their performances are phenomenal. Franky exudes patience and genuine caring, but also frustration as a husnband dealing with a spouse with mental illness. Kimura is equally remarkable, depicting Shoko's ripping grief in scenes that brought tears to my eyes. The supporting cast of Akira Emoto as Sato's boss, Yasuda and Mitsuko Baisho and Susumu Terajima as Shoko's mother and brother also heighten the drama as the couple's support network.

But what also impressed me about "All Around Us" was how Hashiguchi uses simple imagery: the "X"s on the calendar, bundled pregnancy and parenting books left out for the trash, spilled rice in the kitchen sink as a visual shorthand to advance the emotional arch of the film. There's no better example of this than the rainbow of jars filled with dried pigments that Shoko uses to paint floral panels for the ceiling of a Buddhist temple, finally finding a way out of her depression.

I can't think of a movie released this year that moved me as much as "All Around Us" did. In its honest depiction of a marriage it proves that a fantastic film can be powered just as easily by that everyday and enduring lower case love as it can by its more flashy counterpart.

1 comment:

C. said...

I've just seen the film this afternoon, and was looking for a review to recommend the movie to a friend of mine. This one was definitely the best one I could find, without any doubt.