Comparisons may be odious, but I couldn’t help but thinking of Yasujiro Ozu’s shomingeki films (like his so-called “Noriko trilogy”) while watching Back to That Day, a remarkable new release by the young director Seira Maeda of the Chicago Japan Film Collective.
While there is only a hint of Ozu’s cinematographic style here, the 26-year-old Maeda instinctively captures the poignancy of loss and transition in her offering, honoring her viewers, as did Ozu, with a transcendental sense of consolation and hope in the wake of unspeakable grief.
The central character in this sensitively wrought film is Manami (Reina Matsui), a 30-year-old aspiring playwright consumed with guilt and ambiguity over the sudden death of her younger sister Nao (Miwako Kakei). The two women had their share of conflict—for years, Manami falsely claimed credit for some of her younger sibling’s theatrical successes, a situation exacerbated by recent revelations over Nao’s parentage.
When Nao suddenly dies on a Tokyo back street after an alcohol-fueled binge, Manami falls into a deep, angst-ridden melancholy that tests her willingness to move forward.
The story is told at just the right pace, sparsely but with rich nuance. Director Maeda is keenly adept at drawing deep but restrained emotion from the most mundane of scenes—like the quiet reverence of Nao’s Shinto-inflected funeral service or a boisterous hearing at which Nao’s boss is accused of contributing to her death via workplace harassment.
Even the seemingly routine act of clearing out Nao’s messy Tokyo apartment mirrors Manami’s struggle to clear her own mind from the clutter of conflicting emotions in the aftermath of her sister’s death.
The cathartic moment comes in the final moments of the film, once Nao’s apartment has been cleaned out, when Manami agrees to direct her late sister’s play about Anna Karenina.
Buoyed by her new-found resolve, Manami guides the actor playing Anna to end her life in an exuberant dance, acknowledging the fashion in which Manami herself has triumphed over her earlier desolation.
Even after the film’s credits have rolled by, viewers glimpse one final scene, of Manami serenely slurping noodles in a ramen-ya. What better way to convey her newfound commitment to long life? Ozu would have agreed.
Check out the below link to see the film for free.
CJFC Website: https://www.cjfc.us