(Hirokazu Kore-eda, Japan, “Arimura Kasumi No Satsukyu”)
Japanese director Hirokazu Kore-eda displays all his usual themes in this 42-minute television piece and it’s a low-key delight.
At first glance, it seemed peculiar for the London Film Festival to programme only the first episode in an eight-part series, until it became clear that each of the episodes are stand-alone tales based around the same central character. Subsequent episodes are to be directed by others, although Kore-eda apparently returns for the third part.
The series features real-life actress Kasumi Arimura who plays a fictional version of herself (the end-credit disclaimer is amusingly emphatic). Apparently the original Japanese title translates to ‘Kasumi Arimura’s Shooting Break’, which would only really make sense in Japan where Kasumi is known as an actress, but that doesn’t quite explain the oddly ungrammatical English name.
As the title suggests, Kasumi finds herself with an unexpected day off work (her director has a cold) and so decides to make a rare visit to her widowed mother at her family home. The pair spend the day together, gently teasing one another, preparing food, and playfully catching up, while Kasumi gradually learns about some unexpected family connections.
Although Kore-eda didn’t write the screenplay, this is standard fare for the Japanese director. Best known for his Cannes-winning Shoplifters, the latter part of Kore-eda’s career is mostly built on sentimental family tales that are curiously affecting; recent films like the more rigorous The Third Murder and the bitter French drama The Truth (which I found disappointing) are rare deviations.
This piece most resembles Kore-eda’s exceptional Still Walking in both situation (young family member returns to suburban home, recently dead relative, uncertainty over an outsider) and tone (sentimental, understated, poignant, light). Of course the TV episode’s shorter running time doesn’t allow the same depth of character development, but the cast and plot are correspondingly modest.
There’s nothing new here, but as Kore-eda is a master of this kind of drama, it doesn’t matter. Scenes like those of mother and daughter bonding as they prepare food in the family kitchen have a light touch and Kore-eda has an incredible skill at making you believe in these relationships, that every moment is built on a long, warm history together.
There’s still the same delicate camerawork and even the same sentimental soundtrack that always threatens to destable the drama into a saccharine tweeness but doesn’t quite.
We don’t see much of Kore-eda’s TV work. His 2012 series Going My Home was apparently a flop in Japan and is difficult to see internationally. This one is by no means essential, so if it similarly vanishes it’s you won’t be missing a classic. But it’s a mark of the director’s talent that he can make such a joyful miniature even if he on familiar ground.
The first episode of A Day-Off of Kasumi Arimura streams at the London Film Festival from 10th to 13th October 2020.