左様なら Sayounara (2018)

Still catching up this week with my favourites I saw last year, this one’s a bit of an anomaly. I saw it in that first flush of film festivals moving online, via a “Japanese Film Festival Magazine” website which was streaming a number of recent Japanese films, many by women directors. Perhaps it was seeing this during lockdown that made me respond positively, who knows, but I did very much like it.


There is, of course — given the title, which is reminiscent of the French adieu, in the sense of a final goodbye — a deep seam of sadness and melancholy that laces through this film. This much is clear in its setup: Yuki (Haruka Imo), who seems to be a fairly popular girl in her high school class, starts to become sullen and distant after her friend Aya (Kirara Inori) dies. Despite this, there’s something in the way that it unfolds that has a deeply-felt warmth to it; for all Yuki’s grief, it feels over the course of the film as if Aya’s death allows her to come to value what’s really important in her life. And so she finds herself cutting out the mean girls who share gossip about Aya (speculating that her death in an accident may have been a suicide and revealing that they never really liked her anyway) and starting to welcome new experiences, like going to gigs with the guys in her class who make an effort to reach out to her and don’t seem to hold her in the same shallow judgement. In flashbacks, she relives her times with Aya, rehearsing her grief and admonishing herself for not crying or being appropriately sad at her friend’s death, even as it’s perfectly clear to read on her face how she feels.

None of the drama comes in big gestures or speeches, just in little moments like a classmate shuffling shyly behind her at a school fieldtrip, in which you can see the classmate wanting to reach out to Yuki but opening rather gauchely with “Were you good friends with Aya?” to be rebuffed with a simple “Why?” before falling back, uncertainly, as they both walk on. A lot of the movement of the film is similarly captured by the camera in these emotional exchanges with a thankful paucity of dialogue, but it seems to me that this is as much about the writing and direction allowing this space as it is to the excellent acting of Imo. For all the film’s melancholy, it’s heartening and affecting, and ultimately is not so much about the death of a schoolmate as it is about another finding out how to live (which sounds so much more melodramatic when I write it down than it is in the film).

Sayounara film posterCREDITS
Director/Writer Yuho Ishibashi 石橋夕帆; Cinematographer Shu Hagiwara 萩原脩; Starring Haruka Imo 芋生悠, Kirara Inori 祷キララ; Length 86 minutes.
Seen at home (Japanese Film Festival Magazine streaming), London, Thursday 14 May 2020.

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