I honestly don’t know where to start with this film. It’s smart, funny, and entertaining. The characters are well developed and it’s a pseudo retelling of the history of this closing theater in Japan. It provides worthwhile commentary on the movie theater industry and chasing your dreams in general. There’s this dream metaphor that they go back to that’s so well done, and apart from a few editing problems and pacing issues, I truly enjoyed the film.
The plot of the film is straightforward. A movie theater, Daikokuza, is shutting its doors after being open for over 120 years. Asuka (Reiko Fujiwara) works at the theater and teases her childhood friend Akira (Kanata Hongo) because he has a crush on her and shows it by asking her if she wants to be in his movies. What movies does he make? Well, none. He can’t find the passion for writing a screenplay. The movie is separated into chapters in a novel that Akira is reading about screenwriting while he tends a bar that the movie theater employees frequent. While this is happening, a director, Niimi (Junpei Yasui), is interviewing the current owner of the theater, Fujimoto (Eri Ishida), about the theater’s history. The director discovers an old man (Mickey Curtis) in all of the old photos. Also, Takei (Futoshi Suetake), an upper-level employee, is struggling with the reality of his workplace closing.
I think the main positive of the film is that it balances its plot points so well. There was never a time that I wished a character would be focused more or I didn’t understand why I character would do something different. I think Hideyuki Tokigawa, the director and writer, should be given huge props for this achievement. I also enjoyed that the theater itself was a character. Asuka mentions early on that it’s basically a maze because of how it expanded, and there are several references to how a lot of doors haven’t been opened in years and people get lost frequently. Side characters like Nakazawa (Roppei Takao), Toyoshita (Jire Okazaki) and Okubo (Kai Ato) feel like people that we’ve known for years, despite just getting introduced to them 10-15 minutes prior. The dialogue throughout the movie feels fluid and realistic. I think that’s why each character is fully formed and so intricate in their own ways.
My favorite part of the film was the dream pool on the roof of the cinema. Asuka, Fujimoto, and Akira each visit it and meets Sennin (Yuji Yokoyama) and Sennin’s assistant (Nao Oikawa) who claim to answer any and all questions, which they never seem to do. I loved this part because it showed what the characters wanted and how they think. For example, Asuka’s first question is “are there aliens out there?” This tells the audience that she’s got a wide imagination and thinks about life a little differently. In comparison to Fujimoto who just immediately asks the correct question with authority. She acts like the boss even in her dreams. Finally, Akira can’t start to process what he wants to ask given such a vast opportunity which fits in with his inability to write. When each character finally asks their actual question, they get prodded by Sennin and his assistant until they come up with the question themselves. Also, they’re both hilarious and keep the tone very light. But I think this is what really told the audience the most about each character.
This film has an incredible amount of heart. Each time the old man is on screen, he commands the screen and almost dominates Asuka, but it feels like it should be as Asuka hasn’t worked at the theater for a long time and the old man practically lived his entire life in the theater. The inherent hierarchy between characters was well addressed. The visitation to the old man’s room is probably a scene I will never forget. There was so much suspense and the payoff was so rewarding. There are also numerous shots of the writing on the walls. Which signals the end of the theater like in the Bible, but it also shows how much the people of the town will miss it. There’s a conversation the latter half of the film with Asuka, Nakazawa, and Takei about why Nakazawa wears a certain watch and why he keeps coming back that left me in tears. The connections to the theater are palpable. The last scene also felt like Asuka and Akira connected in a different way that you don’t normally see in American movies. It was refreshing and passionate.
Overall, this film was phenomenal. I could seriously recommend it to almost everyone. The editing jumps randomly sometimes and the ending feels like it’s a long time coming but other than that, I didn’t honestly have that many more problems. It’s well put together and authentic. The characters are so likable and funny. I was rooting for each one throughout the film. The metaphors that they relied on felt genuine and were well thought out. I never felt like the movie bent reality either which was surprising. I also enjoyed the commentary on the movie theater business. Many tears were shed and I was immediately wishing I could watch it again.
Score: 9 out of 10