Friday, November 06, 2020

Hamaguchi “at” Japan Society: Heaven is Still Far Away

There really isn't a precise word to describe Yuzo’s relationship with Mitsuki. At least there isn’t in English and probably not in Japanese either. In fact, this film is all about revealing their significant but unconventional connection. You might guess the first big revelation, but there are more layers of the onion to peel back in Ryusuke Hamaguchi’s thirty-eight-minute (and one second) Heaven is Still Far Away, which screens as part of the Japan Society’s virtual film series, Three by Hamaguchi.

We’re not judging, but as one of the free-lance engineer pixelating the dirty parts in Japanese adult movies, Yuzo might have frustrated you in the past. Regardless, it does not seem to shock Mitsuki, the high school girl he lives with. They have an odd relationship, but at this point, they are clearly comfortable with each other. However, they have a bit of an argument when Satsuki, a film student, requests an interview for a film she is making about her murdered sister. Yuzo is reluctant to participate, because he never really knew her, but Mitsuki adamantly insists he should.

: it is a bit of a surprise that Hamaguchi (the epic chronicler of human relationships in Happy Hour and Asako I & II) would produce a ghost story as a crowd-funding reward, but indeed he did. Yet, it still reflects his keen sensitivity and sincere compassion for his characters. Despite its supernatural themes, it is an intensely humanistic film.

Hamaguchi also inspires some wonderful, delicately calibrated performances from his trio of cast-members: Nao Okabe, Anne Ogawa, and Hyunri, as Yuzo, Mitsuki, and Satsuki, respectively. The way Okabe interacts and builds empathy with both of his co-stars is initially intriguing and ultimately genuinely affecting.

There is no question
Heaven packs an emotional haymaker. It is beautifully simple and arrestingly heartfelt. It also sounds nice, thanks to the use of a classic Zequinha de Abreu tune. Aesthetically, it looks very Hong Sang-soo, but it connects on a much deeper level. Enthusiastically recommended, Heaven is Still Far Away screens virtually at Japan Society (now through January 22nd), either a la carte or in a package of all Three by Hamaguchi.