A communication breakdown gradually erodes the love of a young couple in Daigo Matsui’s melancholy romantic drama, Just Remembering (ちょっと思い出しただけ, Chotto Omoidashita Dake). Inspired by Jim Jarmusch’s Night on Earth, Matsui’s city vistas are drenched in loneliness and regret made all the deeper by the enforced isolation of the coronavirus pandemic while echoing the sense of rueful nostalgia that draws the fated lovers back together but unites them only in their shared sadness.
Told in a non-linear fashion, the film follows taxi driver Yo (Sairi Ito) and lighting technician Teruo (Sosuke Ikematsu) through the course of five year relationship picking up on each of Teruo’s July 26th birthdays as time ticks by with a weary fatalism expressed by an ever present wall clock. As the film opens, a lonely Teruo celebrates a birthday alone watching Night on Earth which we later learn to be his favourite film, a poster adorning the wall above his bed, and something of a touchstone in his relationship with Yo who is like Winona Ryder in the movie a woman who drives a taxi. Echoing the film’s title, each of them repeatedly encounters reminders of their time together from forgotten hair clips to outdated profile pictures that hint at the unresolved nature of their failed romance. In a park that leads to Teruo’s apartment, a man (Masatoshi Nagase) is often seen sitting by a tree waiting for his wife to arrive he says from the future. The man and his wife may perhaps represent an older version of Teruo and Yo though in contrast to his absolute faith and willingness to wait it’s uncertainty and an inability to reckon with intangible feeling that eventually disrupt their connection.
Awkward and anxious, Yo struggles to express herself in words yet is unable to understand the world without them whereas Teruo communicates through dance and feels words to be largely unimportant unable to fully convey thoughts and emotions. The pair are indeed the most connected when they’re dancing, the otherwise shy and subdued Yo captivated by Teruo’s movement and dropping her guard to dance spontaneously in a quiet back alley while the street guitarist who forever connects them plays quietly behind. When Teruo injures himself and is left unable to dance, it destroys his ability to communicate and places an unbearable strain on the relationship as he retreats to lick his wounds unwilling to bother Yo with his mental and physical pain while she resents the distance he places between them and reads his reluctance to burden her as a fault line in their romance. She tells him that however he may change her feelings won’t, which only sounds to him as if she only loves an abstract idea rather than the reality while he too fears that she won’t like the him that that isn’t a dancer because not even he really knows who that Teruo may turn out to be.
It’s telling in a way that the central love confession occurs in a taxi that’s being driven by someone else, a bemused older man who encourages the pair that it’s best to say what you want to say while you can and literally stops time for them by pausing the meter as twinkle twinkle little star echoes ironically in the background. Yo says she likes her taxi job because she has a desire to travel but not the ability to choose a destination and driving the taxi allows her to feel as if she’s on the way to something though she’s only following her passengers’ instructions. Her essential trait is passivity, feeling lost and aimless in her life and often allowing others to make her choices for her save when she follows the advice of a lovelorn barman (Jun Kunimura) who tells her that sometimes you have to chase after what you want only to later be disappointed when the wounded Teruo fails to chase after her. The barman tells her that she doesn’t understand love, and perhaps she doesn’t unwilling to trust her romantic destiny while perhaps neither does Teruo, always somehow waiting while gazing at visions of love on ordinary street, high school girls gossiping about boys, an elderly couple helping each other down the stairs, and a mother carrying her infant son.
It’s tempting to view their romance as doomed because they speak different languages while their continual role reversal suits neither of them very well, Yo quite literally in the driving seat but by her own admission having no idea where they’re going while Teruo struggles to communicate with her in terms she can understand. Yet they also share moments of true connection and vulnerability in which they are each understood by the other in a way they may never be again that leaves each of them with a lingering loneliness and regret for their failed romance. Love is an escape route, according to the wise old barman, but it’s one that continually eludes the two lovers who like the like man at the park are trapped in a state of perpetual waiting for a far off resolution.
Just Remembering screened as part of this year’s Fantasia International Film Festival.
Trailer (English subtitles)