See You Tomorrow, Everyone (Cert 15)
1 Disc (Distributor: Third Window Films) Running Time: 121 minutes approx.
In Furoku, Japan, of the one hundred and seven children from the local elementary school class of 1981 only Satoru Watarai (Gaku Hamada) doesn’t graduate to High School. Satoru lives with his mother, Hinagu (Nene Otsuka) in the projects, a self-contained estate featuring housing, communal amenities and a small shopping centre. Satoru is determined to stay put and devote his life to serving and protecting this small community, long after his friends have all left.
Yoshihiro Nakamura will be known to many for such works as Fish Story, The Foreign Duck, the Native Duck and God in a Coin Locker and Chips, all of which feature seemingly unrelated stories told in a non-linear fashion that miraculously all come together in the end. See You Tomorrow, Everyone may buck that trend with its singular narrative but it fits neatly into Nakamura’s quirky but rich body of work.
What starts off as another esoteric slice-of-life yarn full of Japanese idiosyncrasies gradually reveals itself to be an emotional driven tale of finding the path to one’s dreams, and how living in the past and not recognising the signs when it is time to move on, can be a stifling prospect. However, some of us have to wait longer than others before the wake up call finally hits us which brings us to Satoru.
At aged twelve (still played by Gaku Hamada which is a huge stretch even for his perpetual youthful looks) Satoru has made up his mind to spend his life at the projects and his mother happily supports him in this. Amazingly at this young age, Satoru figures out that he will have a better education at the University of Life rather than a conventional academic institution; the rather obsessive daily schedule he constructs for himself – reading, martial arts training, patrolling the homes at night and noting the school kids who come and go – gives Satoru a sense of responsibility, which holds him in good stead when he gets his dream job at the local bakery when he turned 16.
Of course there is more to life than that and Satoru manages to get a piece of the action albeit again through unconventional methods. His first link to the outside world is Noriaki Sonoda (Kento Nagayama), an effete young lad who is subject to bullying and accompanies Satoru on his patrols. Living next door to Satoru is Yuri Matsushima (Haru), with whom he has daily chats over the balcony, a tradition that lasts many years, that eventually leads to some awkward mutual introductions to their sexual developments. But while Yuri eventually looks for her kicks further afield a school reunion (held at the projects, natch) allows Satoru to meet up with Saki Ogata (Kana Kurashina), a pretty girl he held a flame for who also believes in the homeliness of the projects. They get engaged but the suggestion of a night out at the karaoke shows just how deep rooted and hindering Satoru’s problem with leaving the projects truly is.
It is hard to divine if Nakamura is celebrating the projects in a romantic nostalgic glow or criticising them with a caustic swipe but he clearly has something to say about their place in Japanese social history, both positive and negative. Yuri, for example, is the metaphorical measuring stick by which we are shown how far Satoru has been left behind; her looks, attitudes and fashions all changing and adapting with the times while he remains the same throughout, both physically and fashionably. Yet, as Satoru correctly predicted earlier, it is the experiences within the complex that has shaped him into a more rounded person than his peers become with their “proper” education.
Usually the big revelation at the heart of the central dilemma arrives at the end of the film but Nakamura brings it to us at the halfway mark, literally making this a film of two halves. From hereon in the tone is noticeably darker and more desperate as both the residential count and shop presence decreases at an alarming rate with only Satoru, with his naïve, cynicism free industriousness, being the only constant. The arrival of foreign immigrants looking for cheap accommodation provides the foundation for the dramatic turn of events that will shape Satoru’s future when he befriends a half Brazilian-Half Japanese girl Maria (Naomi Ortega), the victim of physical abuse from her Japanese step father.
Nakamura’s skill as a filmmaker is his ability to control the emotions of his audience with a flawless blend of drama and gentle offbeat comedy that doesn’t jar or make for a disjointed narrative. Everything, no matter how small, has a purpose and the elements all come together in a smooth transition while keeping the tone consistent at all times. Laughter, sadness, sympathy, anger and joy are all feelings engendered during the two hours we spend with Satoru, making his journey a shared experience.
Meanwhile the glue holding everything together is the evergreen Gaku Hamada, effectively the Mifune to Nakamura’s Kurosawa after so many successful collaborations together. Once again, the diminutive baby faced actor delivers another nuanced performance, subtly capturing all of the right inflections of the various ages he is tasked with depicting; even if he doesn’t look twelve he certainly acts it. And he is put through many physical and dexterous challenges for this role which he meets head on. Of his worthy supporting cast, the subtle and understated turn by Nene Otsuka deserves a mention in what is a vital if underestimated role as Satoru’s mother and implicit spiritual guide.
It’s extremely difficult not to be impressed by a film like See You Tomorrow, Everyone be it on a superficial or emotional level. Nakamura has a knack for making the mundane and quirky an immersive engagement that strikes the right notes without needless flamboyance. Subtly superb.
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Rating – ****
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