All Around Us

All Around Us


Reviewed by: Robert Munro

Playing out like a Russian novel, All Around Us charts the highs and lows of a thirtysomething couple over the course of eight years against the backdrop of Japan in the tumultuous Nineties. Running at almost two and a half hours long, filmmaker Ryosuke Hashiguchi puts time and consideration into the detailed portrayal of the protagonists’ lives, for the most part, with great success.

The film begins in 1993, with our two central characters Kanao (Lily Franky) and Shoko (Tae Kimura) expecting their first child. They seem the epitome of a young, modern Tokyo-dwelling couple. She designs covers for a publishing company, while he initially works repairing shoes, but soon becomes a courtroom sketcher. Both have studied art at college and seem content, despite their differing personalities. Shoko believes in order and determinism – she marks dates on a calendar with a large red X each month to schedule her and Kanao’s sexual appointments. Shoko, however, is more laidback, taking life as it comes while flirting with an assortment of women who come to have their shoes repaired.

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Ryosuke’s script is funny and candid in its discussion of the sexual appetites of Kanao and Shoko, and their friends and family, who dip in and out of the story as the epic, yet personable, narrative begins to unfold. As Kanao gets more work in the courtroom sketching those involved in the increasingly depraved and psychotic murders – all of which are taken from real cases – Shoko quits her job and slumps into a deep depression after a tragic turn of events. The years go by rapidly and their relationship seems to deteriorate in parallel with the morals of a Japanese society increasingly fascinated by the media fervour around the murder trials. There are no longer any dates marked with an X on the calendar.

The novelistic approach extends to include a host of supporting characters. They each have their own character arcs rather than existing as supplementary to our two central lovers. They’re by turns cynical, funny, whimsical, suicidal and driven by their work. That they flit in and out of the story, with the viewer interested in the progression of their own lives, is testament to the quality of the writing.

While the pace may seem slow at times, the deliberate and considered consumption of all the little details that make up the couple’s life results in a more than satisfying pay-off towards the end. This is also in no small part aided by the performance of Franky, whose likeable charm and endearing outlook on overcoming the shit that life throws your way, allow you to overlook his wandering eye and sometimes less than understanding attitude towards Shoko. Kimura has, perhaps, a more demanding role as she struggles to deal with the tragedies that befall them and is plunged into despair. Her lonely isolation throughout the couple’s lean years is powerfully acted, without ever becoming mawkishly sentimental.

The sensitive outlook given to the characters and their fragile relationships continues on to the look and design of the film. Cinematographer Shogo Ueno takes a thoughtful approach to capturing the actors and their surroundings. Long, single-take scenes abound with characters either seated on the floor or moving in and out of the room, reminding us of past Japanese masters of cinema. Not all of the decisions surrounding the film work quite as well, however. There are some odd transitions made in the edit in the form of iris wipes and the like - such as the circling of a spider on the wall - which feel like affectations jarring with the rest of the film. The soundtrack is also problematic at times - the sooner filmmakers stop using a twinkling piano to accompany an emotional scene the better.

These are minor concerns that aren’t large enough to detract from a well thought-out film which can’t fail to bring a smile to even the most cynical of lips, as a couple in love endure the hardest of times to come out smiling at the other end.

Reviewed on: 28 Feb 2012
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Witty drama about eight years in a marriage.
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Director: Ryosuke Hashiguchi

Writer: Ryosuke Hashiguchi, Ryosuke Hashiguchi

Starring: Lily Franky, Tae Kimura, Tamae Ando, Hirofumi Arai, Mitsuko Baisho, Akira Emoto, Ryo Kase, Reiko Kataoka, Yuichi Kimura, Rie Minemura

Year: 2008

Runtime: 140 minutes

Country: Japan

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