Ice Cream and the Sound of Raindrops (アイスと雨音, Daigo Matsui, 2017)

プリントThe youth movie has long held a special place in Japanese cinema but it would be fair to say that the fire has gone out of late, modern youth dramas are generally sad rather than angry. Daigo Matsui was in an enraged mood when he brought us Japanese Girls Never Die – a chronicle of female elision in an intensely misogynistic society. Now he brings his camera down a little to take a look at the incendiary play by boundary pushing British playwright Simon Stephens, Morning, through the eyes of real teenagers as their own hopes and dreams are suddenly pulled away from them by an act of “unfairness” which is perfectly typical of the treacherous adult world obsessed with rationality and not at all interested in their feelings.

Shot entirely in one take, Ice Cream and the Sound of Raindrops (アイスと雨音, Ice to Amaoto) masterfully condenses the one month rehearsal period of the play into a mere 70 minutes through dreamlike time segues, neatly swapping aspect ratios as the “play” takes over from “real life”. Stephens’ play, set at the end of summer – the same time as the play is being rehearsed and was scheduled to be performed, is a coming of age tale in which its small town heroine attempts to deal with the impending departure of her best friend for university by embracing the “freedoms” of youth only to discover that not all transgressions are cost free.

In a bid for “realism” the play’s director, played by Matsui himself, has cast real local teens by means of an open audition, but times are tough for the arts. With no “names” in the cast, ticket sales are slow. The producers have decided to pull the production and cut their losses ahead of time. The youngsters are obviously upset. This was, after all, their big chance and they’ve worked hard only to be told that all their efforts are worthless because they just don’t have “it”. No one cares about their feelings, no one cares about their wasted time, no one cares about them.

The actors and actresses play characters with their real names, slipping into and out of the theatrical world with little warning until the two begin to blend almost seamlessly and it becomes impossible to tell which level of theatricality best represents the teens’ inner lives. The “play” is also scored by a kind of Greek chorus in the form of a slightly older rapper/performance poet who offers a more direct commentary on the general feelings of hopelessness which have begun to plague the young cast who know they will be emerging into a world with few possibilities in which they will be expected to abandon their youthful dreams for an idea of conventional success which is destined to remain far out of their reach.

The cutesy title, Ice Cream and the Sound of Raindrops, hints at another kind of youth story – the melancholy journey into nostalgia as an older protagonist looks back on a beautiful summer many years ago spent with friends who perhaps are no longer around. Matsui’s film has some of that too, though his protagonists are younger. The teens almost eulogise themselves, telling their story as if it’s already over, walking like ghosts through halls of memory. They’re sad, but they’re angry too and they don’t understand why their platform has been so arbitrarily removed just as they were preparing their voices to be heard.

If youth wants the stage it will have to take it by force. Sick of being blamed, of being told that their failures are all lack of talent rather than luck, the kids make themselves heard even if they do so through a veil. Daigo Matsui gives them back their stage, enriching it with his own artifice in the thrillingly complex choreography of his oscillating one take conceit. Anchored by a standout performance from leading lady Kokoro Morita on whom many of the transitions depend, Ice Cream and the Sound of Raindrops returns the youth film to its previous intensity with a rebel yell from the disenfranchised next generation who once again find themselves at odds with the society their parents’ have created and see no place for themselves within it which accords with their own sense of personal integrity. 


Screened at Nippon Connection 2018.

Original trailer (no subtitles)

The Night I Swam (La Nuit où j’ai nagé / 泳ぎすぎた夜, Damien Manivel & Kohei Igarashi, 2017)

The Night I SwamCinema, at its most innocent, is a place where children can have fantastic adventures while the adults watching them from the other side of the screen worry though somehow or other it always manages to turn out OK. From the anxious whimsy of the The Little Fugitive, to the melancholy dreaminess of Palle all Alone in the World, and on to the anarchy of Home Alone, children in movies are much more resourceful than we give then credit for. The Night I Swam (La Nuit où j’ai nagé / 泳ぎすぎた夜, Oyogisugita Yoru), a Japanese/French co-production co-directed by A Young Poet’s Damien Manivel and Hold Your Breath Like a Lover’s Kohei Igarashi, is testament to this as its central little hero sets off on a perilous journey to show his dad, who has to leave very early for work at the fish market in town, a drawing he made of a fish.

One fateful morning, while it’s still dark outside, a little boy wakes up and hears his father smoking a cigarette in the kitchen before going to work. The boy can’t get back to sleep. He tries to wake his mum but she’s deep asleep so he plays with the family dog, has a game with his toy animals, watches some TV and then draws a picture of a fish before trying to get a little more shuteye before he has to get up for school. The consequence of this is he’s very sleepy when it comes to getting ready in the morning as his mum helps him into the ski pants, jacket, and pretty blue hat that will keep him warm in the thick snow which is currently piled higher than his head on the way out of their home.

The little boy puts the drawing in his backpack and then sets off, but when he reaches the school gates he makes a surprising decision. He turns around, climbs over a fence and escapes! Playing in the snow for a while it seems as if the boy just didn’t fancy a day cooped up indoors but he has a plan and it requires getting on a train into the city…

The little boy’s journey is occasionally perilous. It’s certainly freezing cold out there, surrounded by snow and and ice, and the little tyke is so tired that at one point he just collapses and falls asleep in the snow. Somehow or other he seems to rally himself and continue on his journey even if he sheds some of his tools as he goes including a precious glove which he takes off to peel the oranges he’s brought along for sustenance. Once in the city he makes a dangerous dash across an icy road, wanders around a department store, and spends a while sitting in a food court, observing the busy lives around him like a visitor from a dream. When he gets to the fish market, it’s already closed, the place is eerily empty and deserted, waiting for the next day’s activity to begin.

Disheartened and completely exhausted, the boy starts testing doors on the cars in the carpark before crawling into a open van to keep warm and falls asleep. Luckily, the boy’s story has a happy ending as he meets some nice people who help him get back to his family safe and sound where he finally gets some proper sleep after his long adventure. The film’s most touching moments occur at the end as the boy’s dad hangs up his wet clothes to dry before looking at the drawing which the boy’s sister has pinned on the fridge before falling asleep next to his son, sharing this small amount of time they have together, while the boy’s mother watches TV downstairs with her little girl.

Shot in academy ratio and entirely dialogue free, The Night I Swam has an innocent, dreamlike quality as the little boy wanders through the snow, wide eyed and curious but set on reaching his destination even though he is clearly very tired, not to mention cold. Broken into three chapters with picture book font titles, The Night I Swam is a beautifully elliptical tale filled with whimsy and melancholy as the boy and his father are kept apart by practical concerns but united, perhaps, in dreams.


Currently available to view via Festival Scope (€4) until 19th September.

Original trailer

Love/Juice (Kaze Shindo, 2000)

vlcsnap-2017-07-08-23h24m47s422Some situations are destined to end in tears. Kaze Shindo’s Love Juice adopts the popular theme of unrequited love but complicates it with the peculiar circumstances of Tokyo at the turn of the century which requires two young women to be not just housemates but bedmates and workmates too. One is straight, one is gay and in love with her friend who seems to get off on manipulating her emotions and is overly dependent on her more responsible approach to life, but both are trapped in a low rent world of grungy nightclubs and sleazy hostess bars.

Chinatsu (Mika Okuno) and Kyoko (Chika Fujimura) are roommates sharing not just a house but a bed and almost everything else too. Best friends, their relationship is necessarily close and broadly supportive save for a persistent level of tension when it comes to romance. Chinatsu, openly gay, is in love with Kyoko who isn’t interested but somehow keeps stringing her along and makes a point of flirting with every guy she meets. The back and fore continues until the girls are forced to take degrading work as bunny suited hostesses and Kyoko becomes obsessed with the boy working in the local tropical fish shop (Hidetoshi Nishijima).

Though living openly as a gay woman, Chinatsu is far from happy with her life as her constant complaints of “why was I born a girl” bear out. Attending clubs with her live-in non-lover, Chinatsu picks up dates but it never gets anywhere. Her heart belongs to Kyoko and so she tortures herself by continuing to pine after her emotionally manipulative roommate before adopting an unpleasant forcefulness as she tries to persuade her friend to acquiesce. Snapping away at her with her camera (which she refuses to be turned on herself), Chinatsu becomes jealous and possessive, irritated by Kyoko’s various suitors and wishing she and Kyoko could remain cooped up alone together like the two goldfish sitting in their makeshift bowl.

Where Chinatsu is down to earth and restrained, Kyoko is a lively free spirit adrift for reasons of aimlessness rather than the anxious wandering her friend. Living on the fringes of mainstream society, the women are forced into their inconvenient living arrangements thanks to ongoing poverty. This same poverty eventually forces them both into taking a humiliating job as waitresses at a bunny girl themed hostess bar. Much to Chinatsu’s consternation, Kyoko revels in the constant male attention, flirting awkwardly with the owner who seems to prefer her friend. Uncomfortable with the job and more particularly with the uniform, Chinatsu experiences yet more degrading treatment when she’s brutally assaulted by a colleague after work and can’t even turn to her friend and roommate for help and comfort.

Eventually matters come to a head, the situation can’t endure, suicide is considered, choices are made, sadness and regret litter the scene. Shindo creates a claustrophobic world for two into which the outside occasionally pokes its unwelcome nose. The whimsical score lends a quirky, romantic air to the less destructive side of the two women’s relationship even as it progresses further and further towards its inevitable conclusion. Painting an authentic picture of Tokyo as seen by the disillusioned and desperate turn of the century youth, Shindo’s tale of ordinary heartbreak in unusually difficult circumstances is a nuanced look at a toxic (non)relationship in all of its destructive glory.