Guest Article: Sonatine – Film Review: The Long Excuse

In the very first sequence of the movie, a man is having his hair cut by a woman. He is looking into the mirror, she is in the back. The two of them are chatting in a way it is possible to feel a relationship. The particular thing is that their looks always seem to cross out of frame, in an “outer space,” bringing a disparate note, a sense of distance, in the dialogue. The man is often acting in close-up, while she is in the background, her figure in the reflecting frame of the mirror.

Writer and film director Nishikawa Miwa started her career as staff member in Kore-eda Hirokazu’s After Life (1998) and then as his assistant in Distance (2001). Her first feature film was Wild Berries (2003), produced by Kore-eda. The film won the Best New Director award at the Yokohama Film Festival in 2004, and other awards.

She then directed a segment of the work Fiimeiru, and in 2006 her second feature film, Sway. The film won the Best Screenplay and Best Director awards at the Yokohama Film Festival the same year.

In 2009 she wrote the screenplay (adapted from her own novel) for her new film Dear Doctor, which won Best Screenplay and Best Film awards at the Yokohama Film Festival, as well as Best Director award at the Hochi Film Awards.

Nishiwaka’s next film, Dreams for Sale (2012), is about a fraud scheme put in place by a couple as a result of a tragic event that has occurred in their life. The story is about the conflicts, tensions, emotions and reactions that a sudden event in life can produce.  

Let’s go back to the first sequence in The Long Excuse.

Director Nishikawa introduces her characters in the story – based on her novel about the tragic events of 2011 – in a way that tells us a lot about them from the very first moment we see them.

Kinugasa Sachio is a famous writer, a self-centered man. He cheats on his wife Natsuko, the woman who is cutting his hair. Shortly thereafter, while he is with a young lover, he gets the news of his wife’s sudden death: the bus on which she was travelling with a friend was involved in an accident. Sachio, from that moment on, has to cope with the new situation created by this tragic loss, maintaining at the same time the appearance of a happy wedded life (which had in fact been gone for some time).

The movie deals with an absence, and, like many other Japanese films, starts with a death and from the need to make sense of the feeling of loss, using that as a starting point to analyze human relationships.

Natsuko’s tragic absence reveals the instability between appearance and feelings in the couple. Once again, Nishikawa tells a story about conflicts in a relationship.

In addiction, Sachio becomes involved in the other widower’s problems with two little children (they are the family of Natsuko’s friend). Over time he starts helping them: in a way they seem to create, together, a new extended family composed by the children and (more or less) two fathers. This recalls family structures in Kore-eda’s films, based on feelings and mutual support, such as the one in Father and Son (2013) or Little Sister (2015).

Regarding the style in this family drama- Yamazaki Yutaka is the cinematographer- it is possible to feel the controlled atmosphere. The relationship between Sachio and his friend’s children produces ironic moments, thanks to the boy and the little girl’s skill (they recall the “wise child” often seen in Kore-eda’s films).

Sachio’s character (a compelling Motoki Masahiro, who earlier starred in the Academy-Award-winning Departures in 2009) is a selfish man. He is a liar, too: this seems to be a common trait in Nishikawa’s characters. He lies to his wife, and he lies to himself: the title recalls a “long excuse” in taking care of the children to avoid his feeling of loss. To avoid the emptiness of his life without his wife.

Director: Nishikawa Miwa

Writer: Nishikawa Miwa

Cinematographer: Yamazaki Yutaka

Cast: Kinugasa Sachio (Motoki Masahiro), Kinugasa Natsuko (Fukatsu Eri), Omiya Yoichi (Pistol Takehara), Omiya Shinpei (Fujita Kenshin), Omiya Akari (Shiratori Tamaki), Omiya Yuki (Horiuchi Keiko).

Producer: Nishiwaka Asako, Yose Akihiko

Runtime: 123’

Year: 2016


This is a Guest Article by the lovely Claudia Bertolé of Sonatine.

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