Reviewed by: Amber Wilkinson

Last year, The Impossible explored the aftermath of the 2004 south-east Asia tsunami in viscerally immersive fashion. Nobutera Uchida's film looks at its impact in a much more colder light, examining how the threat of nuclear contamination from the stricken Fukushima plant engendered a sense of creeping dread in Tokyo.

Yukako (Yûki Shinohara) and Tatsuya (Takeshi Yamamoto) live in the same apartment block as Saeko (Kiki Sugino) and Noboru (Yû Koyanagi), although they do not know each other. These married couples, though outwardly similar, have very different relationships; while Yukako and Tatsuya's bond is strong, Saeko and Noburu, who wed after Saeko fell pregnant with Kiyomi (Ami Watanabe), are on the verge of splitting up. Saeko's resultant personal devastation acts as a mirror for the shift away from normalcy in the city landscape.

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The tsunami that threatens here is an invisible wave of fear. This is not just about whether they have running water but what is beign carried on the wind. Yukako is becoming increasingly paranoid about who to trust regarding the facts of the fallout. Next door, worried about what Kiyomi is breathing in, Saeko insists she wears a mask for school and won't let her play outdoors, but the other mothers see her anxiety as a threat, ganging up on her and showing that, in times of crisis, a community as as likely to pull apart as pull together. Just as one man from the disaster zone finds his car covered in stickers labelling him 'contaminated', the mums fear Saeko's concerns will contaminate their own mental state.

The full Japanese title of the film Odayaka na nichijô translates as the ironic "Calm Daily Life", as Uchida seeks to explore the problems that the Japanese equivalent of the British 'stiff upper lip' can bring. His loose style and slow build allow us to see how making waves is frowned upon, even if bottling up emotions can lead to tragedy.

The film - whose cold palette drips with melancholy - is, ironically, given all those pent up emotions Uchida wants to outwardly express, best in its quieter moments. The soapy set-up could also use an injection of pace, while the male characters feel underwritten, with little sense of what really makes them tick. As the film reaches its climax, Uchida let's everything out in a rush with the result that the drama feels overblown and melodramatic. Less would be more.

Reviewed on: 04 May 2013
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Two women in Tokyo face a wave of anxiety after the south-east Asian tsunami.


Tribeca 2013

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