Seven Weeks (野のなななのか, Nobuhiko Obayashi, 2014)

“A death is a history” runs an opening title card in Nobuhiko Obayashi’s poignant existential drama, Seven Weeks (野のなななのか, No no Nanananoka). Returning to some of the director’s key themes, Obayashi’s adaptation of the novel by Koji Hasegawa takes its name from the traditional Buddhist period of mourning reminding us that life and death is a continuous cycle in which all lives are necessarily tied to one another. Some may later ask if those connections are also constraints, thinking perhaps of the sometimes onerous burdens of family, but even they later reflect on the necessity of human ties while contemplating the confluence of the eternal and the transient. 

The death we’re being asked to witness is that of 92-year-old Mitsuo Suzuki (Toru Shinagawa), a former doctor and owner of what some view as a junk shop, who is discovered collapsed by his granddaughter Kanna (Saki Terashima) only to die a few days later at the time shown on his permanently broken wristwatch which also happens to be the time the Great East Japan Earthquake struck in 2011. Soon his extended family begin to arrive beginning with long widowed sister Eiko (Tokie Hidari), grandson Fuyuki (Takehiro Murata) and his daughter Kasane (Hirona Yamazaki), and Kanna’s brother Akito (Shunsuke Kubozuka) while Fuyuki’s brother Haruhiko (Yutaka Matsushige) and his wife Setsuko (Tomoka Shibayama) will make it only in time for the wake. Throwing all into confusion is the unexpected arrival of a mysterious young woman, Nobuko (Takako Tokiwa), later revealed to be a nurse who once lived with the family and fulfilled the role of mother for Kanna and Akito whose parents were killed in a car accident while they were still young. 

Nobuko is in many ways the key to a mystery yet also a cypher, more than one woman at the same time as if in a sense resurrected from Mitsuo’s traumatic memories of love and war in the time of his youth. At his wake, men of a similar age spin their own war stories, Eiko reminding the young that their youth was war and perhaps they’ve a right to romanticise it for all of its terrible cruelty. Mitsuo didn’t go to the front but found himself a victim of shifting borders, ironically a descendent of settler colonisers as a native of Hokkaido travelling to the disputed island of Sakhalin in search of a friend and in the company of the young woman who was engaged to him but with whom he was himself in love believing the war was over only to discover no one had told the Russians and that wars do not end at the same time for everyone, or for some at all. 

In an ironic touch, great-granddaughter Kasane participates in an excavation of an old mine once staffed largely by forced Korean labour, an elderly woman plaintively singing Arirang over the dig site, only to later visit a similar location which has become the “Canada World” tourist attraction including a replica of the house from Anne of Green Gables. As she, Eiko, and Kanna reflect on the changes in the town there’s a minor sadness that the mine has closed which seems somewhat incongruous, even as the wholesomeness of coal from the ground is favourably compared with the dangerously intangible qualities of nuclear energy. Nevertheless, conflicted nuclear engineer Haruhiko later stakes his future on renewable energy, neatly echoing the sense of circularity in a continuous cycle of death and rebirth in which one life is necessarily tied to another and therefore to all lives. 

“We got along with the Russians in Sakhalin before the war” Mitsuo’s friend Ono (Takao Ito) laments, musing on the senselessness of conflict in its propensity to draw lines between people which divide rather than connect. Mitsuo’s death is indeed “a history tying the past and future”, a minor allegory for that of his nation as he contemplates lost love and the end to wandering that is death which leads in turn to new beginnings. “You want to look away. You want to forget about it”, Mitsuo confesses, “but you can’t. You have to remember so that it’s never repeated”. Through their 49-day odyssey, the family members begin to edge their way towards a less anxious if still uncertain future. “We might lose people but not hope” Kanna expounds, recommitting herself to the hometown spirit while opening up to the possibility of romance, while her brother does something much the same, as does her uncle Fuyuki even as his daughter conversely gives up on a possibly inappropriate crush to shift into a more mature adulthood. “We will go on peacefully” runs the final title card, a mission statement for the foundation of a better world. 


Seven Weeks streams in the US July 9 – Aug. 6 as part of Japan Society New York’s Tragedies of Youth: Nobuhiko Obayashi’s War Trilogy season in collaboration with KimStim.

Original trailer (English subtitles)

My Sweet Grappa Remedies (甘いお酒でうがい, Akiko Ohku, 2019)

In Tremble All You Want, Akiko Ohku showed us a painfully shy woman’s path towards seizing control of her romantic destiny while Marriage Hunting Beauty told us that there are no short cuts to love. My Sweet Grappa Remedies (甘いお酒でうがい, Amai Osake de Ugai) takes things one step further as a lonely middle-aged woman gradually finds the desire to make a change in her otherwise unchanging existence, coming to like herself as seen in the eyes of others and trusting in happiness however temporary it might turn out to be. 

40-something Yoshiko (Yasuko Matsuyuki) is an unmarried woman working at a publishing company. She tells us that she keeps a diary that she never expects any one to read, not even herself, and mostly spends her free time drinking alone at home or in elegant bars. From the sometimes lengthy gaps between entries, we can see that Yoshiko’s life is generally uneventful and essentially unchanging, that she has few friends, and though she gets by well enough on her own she often dwells on what might have been, disappointed that she was never able to become a mother. 

She is, however, a deeply caring person, sublimating her need for human attachment into anthropomorphising objects, gently patting her bicycle saddle as she parks it for the day and becoming alarmed that it has ended up “in prison” after being impounded. If she’d had children, she muses, she might never have let them leave the apartment. Yet when she discovers one of her favourite earrings is missing, she decides not to look for it because she accepts its decision, later welcoming it home when it makes an unexpected return. 

Overhearing the conversation of the women next to her at a bar, she wonders if their idle complaints that half the year is gone already are excessively negative but accepts that she too is living life in retrograde and needs to learn how to look forward with positivity, which might be why she starts making a series of small but active changes. She observes the world around her from a new angle in crossing a footbridge she has never crossed before, swaps her comfortable red loafers for grey high heels, and her futon for a bed. 

Some of these changes at least are down to an unexpected friendship with a young woman in her office, Wakabayashi (Haru Kuroki), who invites her out on paydays and brightens up the office atmosphere with her goofy antics. Yoshiko herself might be classically quirky, but she mainly keeps her quirks to herself, quietly getting on with her work, while Wakabayashi is the opposite, cheerfully outgoing yet perhaps just as lonely if in a less obvious way. It’s Wakabayashi who sets her on off another path by introducing her to a friend from university, Okamoto (Hiroya Shimizu), who has recently joined their company and to whom Yoshiko had already taken a liking in passing though he is more than 20 years her junior.  

Too shy to shout bingo, Yoshiko is a lifelong believer in love, observing a young couple at festival and hoping they enjoy a night of passion in the fullness of their youth. She still remembers old anniversaries with long gone exes and wonders if they still remember her, but resents the universe’s attempts to test her with texts from past lovers every time she becomes interested in another man. The fact that Okamoto is so much younger is never really an issue, though Yoshiko admits that she likes the fact he seems to favour older, lived in homes over sparkling new builds while she helps him look for a new apartment. 

Yoshiko celebrates the fact that colour seems to be returning to her black and white days, her desire to see the dark sea where she feels closest to death in order to reaffirm her connection to life seemingly receding. From her childhood, Yoshiko had wondered if the woman she sees in the mirror is the same one everyone else sees, but later realises that the vision of herself reflected is “somewhat nice”, catching sight of herself in Wakabayashi’s mirrored sunshades and noticing that she is in fact smiling. Reinvigorated by her younger friends, Yoshiko steps into an acceptance of herself, looking forward rather than back and willing to take on new challenges rather than merely dropping into a defensive position of protecting the irreplaceable. No longer dark and foreboding, the sea is now sunny and calm, a scene of peace and positivity with nary a cloud on the horizon.


My Sweet Grappa Remedies is available to stream online (worldwide excl. Japan, Mainland China, Taiwan, USA, & Italy) from 9th to 14th June as part of this year’s Nippon Connection Film Festival.

Original trailer (no subtitles)

A Scene at the Sea (あの夏、いちばん静かな海, Takeshi Kitano, 1991)

scene-at-the-seaReview of Takeshi Kitano’s A Scene at the Sea – first published by UK Anime Network.


Takeshi Kitano’s third feature, A Scene at the Sea (あの夏、いちばん静かな海, Ano natsu, Ichiban Shizukana Umi), is about as much of a departure as it is possible to make from his first two films. Not only does Kitano not star, but he eschews his focus on down and dirty, grimy crime thrillers in favour of a poetic tale about a boy who falls in love with the sea. Largely told without dialogue, A Scene at the Sea is Kitano in one of his more contemplative moods as he creates an existential fable of one man’s search to find his place.

Shigeru (Claude Maki) has a dull and unfulfilling life as a dustman, endlessly staring out over the beautifully blue seas of his harbour town as if searching the horizon for some kind of destiny. His luck changes when he finds an old broken surfboard on one of his rounds and manages to repair it. Lacking the proper equipment, Shigeru takes to the seas to indulge his new sport after stripping down to his pants and T-shirt while his girlfriend Takako (Hiroko Oshima) watches him from the sands, lovingly folding his clothes as she waits for him. Over time Shigeru’s love for surfing begins to pull him away both from Takako and from his everyday life on land as he starts skipping work to spend more time riding the waves.

Shigeru is deaf and mute and his girlfriend Takako is more or less silent too, hence the overall lack of dialogue in the film though words are not especially necessary in their relationship. Shigeru is constantly isolated from all social groups (aside from his friendship with Takako) whether it be his inability to join in with workplace banter or the rejection of the snobbish surfers who laugh at his original attempts on the board whilst also grudgingly praising his determination to brave the cold seas without even a wet suit. Though he also had a kind of ally in his partner for dust round, the only person to try and help Shigeru is the owner of a surf shop who sees potential in him and convinces Shigeru to enter a competition. However, at the competition itself there is no one to help him participate – Shigeru misses his opportunity to surf because he can’t hear them call his name. The surf shop owner berates the other surfers for not helping Shigeru, but they continue to ignore him even after he’s been semi-admitted to the group.

Shigeru perseveres despite his lack of ability and paucity of equipment to hone his skills and quickly become a competent surfer. As his obsession with the sea deepens he moves further and further away from Takako. The sea becomes his lover and the surfing a kind of congress or quest for conquest in his new romance. Takako can forgive this growing need for the ocean, but finds herself hurt when she catches Shigeru peeling another girl’s oranges (not a euphemism). Kitano employs another of his beautifully composed long shots to show us Takako wordlessly approaching the pair, who after all are only sitting together on a beach, before stopping indecisively and leaving again without being seen.

The Japanese title of the film, Ano Natsu, Ichiban Shizukana Umi, translates as “That Summer, the Quietist of Seas” which is a little ironic given that calm seas are good for sailors but the opposite of what a surfer needs. The tinge of nostalgic melancholy is clearer here and it’s more obvious that we’re dealing with the remembrance of a past summer, taken from a specific viewpoint, rather than something which is occurring in real time in the present. This may explain some of Kitano’s stranger repeated imagery such as the footballers who never play football and more lyrical, less linear approach to narrative.

Kitano may be in a maudlin mood, but he still injects some of his trademark dark humour notably in the pair of hangers on who follow Shigeru into the world of surfing but spend much of their time bickering about whose turn it is on their shared surfboard, as well as brief appearance from frequent Kitano star Susumu Terajima as a van driver who picks a fight with the police (and loses). Still, A Scene at the Sea is a melancholic vista of a boy lost among the waves, looking for a home on the water. A beautiful, if sad, summer story, Kitano’s third feature is one of his most romantic (in the wider sense) and bears testimony to his talent for crafting intensely moving cinematic poetry.


Original trailer (no subtitles)