Saturday, July 18, 2020

Japan Cuts ’20: Beyond the Night

Folks in this provincial village need a paintball range or some kind of venue for letting off steam. Their anxieties are running high, but being Japanese, they keep it locked inside. Sometimes, it is hard to tell from descriptions whether a film is a proper thriller or a drama. In this case, it is still hard to decide after screening it. Simmering emotions will indeed erupt into violence during the course of Natsuki Nakagawa’s Beyond the Night, which screens as part of the Japan Society’s Japan Cuts Festival of New Japanese Film (all virtual this year).

Mikiro Toyama has recently arrived in town, under rather murky circumstances. He is struck by Sotoko Hashida, a woman on his UPS (or whatever) delivery route, who seems to be bullied at work and abused by her husband. Yet, she is decidedly unreceptive to his cautious offers of help. We quickly learn she has a ragingly dysfunctional and codependent relationship with Atsuya Hashida, the underachieving son of a powerful local family. He definitely has sadistic tendencies, but she is not a masochist, per se. Their marriage cannot simply be boiled down to a dominant-submissive relationship. There is something more twisted going on between them.

The Hashidas also seem to share some dark secrets regarding her disappearing family members. In short, it is complicated, but Toyama is not inclined to let things go, even though the last time he developed a savior complex, it apparently did not work out so well. He will look to Sotoko for a cue, but her signals are definitely quite mixed.

As Sotoko, Saki Tanaka is so frostily reserved and painfully brittle, she keeps viewers perpetually off-balance and questioning their presumed sympathies. Likewise, we instinctively identify with Toyama, even though Kenta Yamagishi consistently projects a sense of danger and unreliability. Together, they force the audience to check and re-check their assumptions. Frankly, the power of their shared scenes is quite remarkable, especially considering how quiet both of their performances are.

ultimately functions as a thriller, but a usually neurotic and repressed example of the genre. Some very important back-story elements are never fully revealed, remaining only hinted at, yet that just makes the film even more haunting. It is hard to stop turning it over in your head, but that means Nakagawa hits a primally deep target. Highly recommended, Beyond the Night screens virtually through July 30th, as part of the 2020 Japan Cuts.