A middle-aged woman decides to embrace possibility after her car is hit by a meteorite in Hideyuki Hirayama’s charmingly quirky dramedy, Tsuyukusa (ツユクサ). Though dealing with difficult subjects such as grief, depression, alcoholism, and loneliness, a spirit of warmth and generosity shines through in the quiet seaside town as its various inhabitants each in their own way find themselves pondering new beginnings and while discovering that change may be scary it’s worth taking the risk for greater happiness.
49-year-old Fumi (Satomi Kobayashi) lives in a quiet village by the sea and works in a textile factory where the atmosphere is laidback and collaborative. For poignant reasons only later disclosed she’s formed a close relationship with her friend’s son Kohei (Taiyo Saito) who is obsessed with all things space. It’s Kohei who decides that whatever it was that hit her car while she was driving home one evening was probably a meteorite and declares that Fumi must be one very lucky lady because the chances of witnessing a meteorite strike are all but infinitesimal. Fumi too seems to take it as a good omen, wearing the moon rock that Kohei finds at the beach as a pendant and symbol of the new possibilities in her life.
Meanwhile it seems clear that Fumi is dealing with a series of things including a problem with alcohol which is why she’s been attending a local support group which is surprisingly large given the size of the town. Then again she’s not the only one dealing with crisis, her two friends from the factory are also at a point of transition. Kohei’s mother Nao (Kami Hiraiwa) is at odds with her husband (Kiyohiko Shibukawa) who has accepted a job offer in another town but suggests that she and Kohei stay behind in part because he is the boy’s stepfather and worries about uprooting him especially as Kohei does not seem to have fully accepted him as a father. Taeko (Noriko Eguchi) meanwhile has embarked on a secret affair with a Buddhist monk (rakugo performer Tougetsuanhakusyu) she somewhat transgressively met when he read the sutras at her late husband’s funeral. Fumi is gradually warming up to new love of her own in taking a liking to Goro (Yutaka Matsushige), a melancholy gentleman of around her own age whom she often sees sadly blowing the tsuyukusa leaves like a harmonica in the local park.
The village is for them a gentle space of healing, many coming from the city following some kind of emotional trauma and looking for a quiet place to escape their sorrow. Even Kohei is caught at a point of transition, exclaiming that all the adults he knows are liars while attempting to deal with his first real heartbreak and contemplating moving away from all his friends and the town he grew up in with a man he doesn’t quite feel he knows. But then as Goro points out, the tsuyukusa grow everywhere and happiness is always in reach as long as you decide to go out and fetch it. Fumi may originally over invest in the symbolism of the moon rock, as if being hit by a meteorite really was an omen of change and a kind of good luck charm in itself rather than a funny thing that happened and caused her to reevaluate her life but finally realises that she didn’t need a meteor strike to give her permission to be happy.
Even so the quirky seaside town does seem to be a cheerful place with a series of colourful characters even if many of them are lonely or displaced. Fumi’s boss is forever doing tai chi by the beach after apparently being left by his wife and unsuccessfully travelling to Taiwan in search of a new one. The guy who runs the local bar used to be a whaler and sends customers out on errands on his behalf, while the old man who runs the alcohol support group finds his job so stressful that it’s driving him to drink. “Just fix the pain, please. Then I can keep on going” Fumi tells a dentist though it’s a fairly apt metaphor for life. Reminiscent of the work of Naoko Ogigami of which Satomi Kobayashi is perhaps a representative star, Tsuyukusa never shies away from the darker corners of life but nevertheless allows its warmhearted protagonist to rediscover joy if only in the simple things.
Tsuyukusa screened as part of this year’s Five Flavours Film Festival and is available to stream in Poland until 4th December.
A young woman comes to a better understanding of her family and her relationship with it after a series of crises some more serious than others in Judy Chu’s semi-autobiographical drama, Sunshine of My Life (一路瞳行). More a coming-of-age tale than an exploration of the difficulties faced by those with disabilities in the recent past, Chu’s heartfelt film nevertheless stresses familial solidarity as the heroine comes to realise that her misplaced resentment is mostly teenage angst and that at the end of the day her parents just want her to be happy.
Yan (Karena Ng) was born to two parents who are each blind. A perfectly ordinary though dangerous accident that could easily happen to a sighted mother leaves a toddler Yan scalded and unkind relatives questioning the couple’s decision to have a child at all implying it is somehow irresponsible and that they are incapable of caring for her. Nevertheless, Yan’s mother Hung (Kara Wai) resolves to do everything she can to keep her daughter safe beginning with attaching bells to her so she has a better idea of where she is and what she’s doing at all times. This early incident does in one sense colour Hung’s parenting style, constantly questioning herself as to whether she’s a good mother and preoccupied with the judgement of others all of which later feeds into her teenage daughter’s resentment as the older Yan grows tired of feeling responsible for her parents’ care.
As a child, Yan had helped her parents by reading out menus and describing the world she sees around her but as a high school student she resents having to rush home after school rather than hanging out with her friends and also seems to be ashamed of her parents’ disability never telling anyone about her family and instead claiming that her mother is ill in hospital. She tells her art teacher that she just wants to get out of Hong Kong and doesn’t care where she goes so long as it’s far away while later telling her no good rich kid boyfriend that she’s searching for “freedom”. On one level she feels intense guilt for leaving her parents behind as if she were abandoning them, worried that they really can’t manage without her, but also fears for her own future and feels trapped as if she’s being asked to sacrifice her own hopes and dreams to stay by her parents’ side forever.
Yan is indeed a teenage girl and has a slightly self-centred way of looking at things, never quite stopping to appreciate how difficult her parents lives can be in a conservative society that is often unwilling to accommodate difference. When her classmates all mock and jeer at a poster advertising a star gazing event for the blind all she can do is smile politely, and at one point she even walks straight past Hung waiting for her outside the school gates perhaps on one level simply embarrassed to have her mother meet her as any teenage girl might be but also anxious to hide her existence from her boyfriend. After being arrested by the police for illegal street selling, Yan’s father Keung (Hugo Ng) gets a job as a masseuse but is later exploited by his employer who tries to force him to sign a new contract accepting a 20% pay cut while increasing the manager’s commission. Keung refuses and is fired but vows to fight for the other workers to end discrimination against the blind and ensure they enjoy the same labour rights as sighted workers.
Faced with a series of crises from a brush with criminality to her boyfriend’s sudden absence and her father’s failing health, Yan is forced to reconsider her relationship with her parents. On witnessing Hung stand up for herself and take her father’s corner Yan realises that she might have underestimated her mother’s capability and what she took for dependency was more a general sense of warmth in receiving care that made her life easier. Tinged with ’90s nostalgia from the ubiquitous cassette tapes Hung uses to record precious moments to pagers and pinups, Chu’s warmhearted drama finds a mother and daughter coming to a better understanding of each other as they both learn to embrace independence and freedom if in a slightly different way than originally anticipated.
Sunshine of My Life screened as part of this year’s Five Flavours Film Festival and is available to stream in Poland until 4th December.
Original trailer (Traditional Chinese / English subtitles)