If you ask me about the pinnacle of Japanese drama
cinema there is only one name that withstands all criticism: Hiroshi
Ishikawa. Sadly his work is terribly under-appreciated (or just plain
unknown), even amongst fans of Japanese cinema. What better reason to
review his first film and unmistakable stronghold of my personal top 10
list. A film that threw me off-balance the first time I watched it and
still holds that same power almost 10 years later.
Ishikawa is a director with a background in shooting commercials, which
is pretty funny considering the fact that his films are amongst the most
subtle, stilted and tender dramas you could ever imagine. There is no
flash, no hype, no trickery, just staggeringly convincing characters in a
very realistic slice of life setup. If anything, the man's film teach
you a thing or two about reigning preconceptions of a director's
background, especially when said director comes from a more
I still find it somewhat awkward to explain to people that Tokyo.sora is
the one film that probably has the biggest emotional impact on me.
After all, Ishikawa's film is about six women living in modern-day
Tokyo, hardly something I can actively relate to as a 30-year old guy
living in Belgium. But underneath the surface of Tokyo.sora lie more
universal themes, exploring social contact, solitude and just about
everything that lies in between.
Tokyo.sora's women are fragile yet sturdy characters who are all on the
verge of a blossoming relationship (some romances, some friendships).
Making contact or truly opening up to other people isn't quite that easy
for them though, so they all struggle along, each of them dealing with
the hurdles that are thrown at them in their own, personal way. There is
no real story and there are no real dramatic events propelling this
film forward (except maybe one, and even that is handled in a very
down-played manner), just the intimate stories of these six women.
Even though Tokyo.sora is pretty sober, it's still a very attractive and
beautiful film to behold. Ishikawa chose his color palette very
carefully, with many blues and grays dominating the screen. The framing
is delicate and precise, the camera work accurate and observing.
Ishikawa often refrains from looking at his subjects directly, instead
he picks mirror reflections or positions his camera out of view from the
characters. This really heightens the feeling you're looking in on the
lives of the characters rather than watching scripted scenes, even
though there is always a clear level of styling present.
The music is handled by Yoko Kanno (anime scoring legend) and while I'm
not a big fan of her anime work, she provides a wonderful, touching and
emotional score here. Maybe not the most original of scores (think piano
tunes and soft-voiced vocal tracks) but definitely a valuable asset
that enhances the soft and drifting atmosphere of the film, easing you
into a warm state of trance.
The acting too is simply superb. None of the actresses are particularly
popular or well-known, but they all possess a natural flair that makes
it that much easier to feel along with their characters. This being a
Japanese drama you have to be able to cope with the typically stilted
and introverted way of acting, though for me this only makes things
better (and it's actually quite in line with the themes of Tokyo.sora).
Don't expect too much in the way of story or dramatic climaxes.
Everything about this film is minimal, from cinematography to scoring to
character development. Sure the women change throughout the course of
the film, just not in any major, life-altering ways but in a more
natural, realistic way. Small events, meetings or simple gestures are
the highlights of this film, slowly influencing the lives these women
are leading. This being a film about six women whose lives aren't
necessarily linked together in any way, the structure can be seemingly
random and uneven. At the same time, by jumping between the different
stories even within scenes you get some very nice contradictions and a
worthwhile mix of emotions. While I've seen some people critique this
way of mixing the different stories, I actually believe it helps the
realistic character of the film.
Ultimately this is a film about the friction between social contact and
solitude. Sometimes contact with others is what you crave and loneliness
can be a painful sore. At other times loneliness is liberating and
social contact can be a real drag. Both elements fulfill an important
function in our lives, even though there are moments when they are
difficult to cope with. So even though I'm not female and I don't live
in Tokyo, these themes are still pretty relevant to me, pulling me in
like no other film can.
If you're interested in Japanese drama Tokyo.sora might not be the best
entry level film. The pacing is incredibly slow, the acting particularly
introverted and the film itself remarkably uneventful. And yet, seeing
these women go through their lives, often incapable to make seemingly
easy decisions but always finding the strength to pick up their lives
and move on, this film emits such strong, powerful and delicate emotions
that it easily surpasses its peers. As far as realistic drama goes,
this is as close to perfection as I've ever seen. If you're into
Japanese dramas and you haven't seen this yet, there is no better film I
Do you feel this content is inappropriate or infringes upon your rights? Click here
to report it, or see our DMCA policy