The Ravine Of Goodbye (Sayonara keikoku)
Japan (2013) Dir. Tatsushi Ohmori
It’s a hot summer and a small Tokyo suburb is bustling with excitement as local and national media converge on the bijou housing complex which is home to Satomi Tachibana, a woman accused of murdering her young son. As much as this is a nuisance for Tachibana, it also disrupts the peace and quiet of her neighbours, Shunsuke Ozaki (Shima Onishi) and his wife Kanako (Yoko Maki) who have to negotiate the mass of reporters as they go about their daily business.
Fate is about to deal a devastating hand for the couple as the police discover that Shunsuke was in a relationship with Tachibana while a tabloid reporter Watanabe (Nao Omori) and his colleague Kobayashi (Anne Suzuki) discover another sinister secret Shunsuke has kept from his wife, which threatens to tear their lives apart.
Based on the novel by Shuichi Yoshida (Villain, Story Of Yonnosuke), The Ravine Of Goodbye is a psychological character study which focuses on the different and surprising reactions to a very serious, damaging and life changing experience by a small group of people.
Whenever a crime is committed we naturally look at the victim in a sympathetic light while giving little to no concern for the perpetrator of the dastardly deed. But what if said perpetrator found himself struggling to live with his conscience and was keen to atone for his actions by petitioning his victim after learning of how the fallout affected them?
And is there any capacity for forgiveness from the victim? This is the central question put forward by this story and while no answers or easy solutions the exploration is a fascinating journey that takes us down some unexpected roads.
Okay we have to enter into necessary spoiler territory so skip this paragraph or highlight if you really want to know:
Watanabe discovers that Shunsuke quit his career as a promising baseball player after taking part in the gang rape of a girl named Natsumi Mizutani fifteen years ago. Natsumi’s life hit a major downward spiral afterwards, entering into an abusive failed marriage which saw her hospitalised, leading to two suicide attempts. She suddenly disappeared six months earlier which is the lead Watanabe was following for his story on Shunsuke.
Under pressure from the hounding reporters, Kanako calls the police and shops her husband for the affair with Tachibana which he eventually confesses to along with convincing Tachibana that they would run away together but without her child. While Kanako is aware of her husband’s adultery she remains in the dark about the rape; if she can live with one misgiving what will she do about the other?
There is a moment where Watanabe and Kobayashi are discussing their findings thus far in the Shunsuke story and the typically contradicting male vs female opinions on this thorny subject arises. When Kobayashi challenges her male colleague on his views, Watanabe replies “this isn’t a case of black and white”. This may seem like a throwaway line but it sums up the complexity of the story and the questions it raises. Believe it or not there are still more plot twists to come that turn the whole moral centre upside down and inside out.
We are therefore put in a position where while we are sympathetic to Kanako and other victims, we are forced to try to understand the thinking behind the decisions they make, which do have a sort of dark logic to them.
It’s fair to say that most of us are unlikely to find ourselves in the same situations as the characters here so we cannot say how we will react and whether we’ll still possess the same mental coherence and rationale we had before as a result. Similarly we are to be appalled at some of the attitudes of the males involved. One flashback scene contains an arrogant appalling lack of consideration for a victim by one supporting player that will raise ire in the viewer beyond anything felt by the initial acts.
Sex is a subtly played key component of the story but for obvious different reasons. It seems to be a cementing factor for the relationship between Kanako and Shunsuke, but as sensually as it is depicted there is a sense of functionality about it. Elsewhere Watanabe has a nagging wife (Mayu Tsuruta) who sleeps alone and drives her husband to the point of forcing himself on her to fulfil her conjugal duties as he sees them which of course gets him nowhere.
Tatsushi Ohmori takes a low key and non-judgemental approach to the raw issue on hand which makes for a better film. With so much emotional manipulation here the temptation to drench the scenes with a stirring orchestral soundtrack to heighten those emotions has thankfully been fought off, allowing the stark silence and emotively sharp performances to do the job with infinitely more successful potency.
Yoko Maki has been suitably rewarded for her sublime essaying of Kanako, a real masterclass in control and nuanced acting, ably supported by Shima Onishi, who cuts quite a pathetic figure burdened and haunted by his own conscience. Fulfilling a similar role but going on a slightly different journey is Watanabe, brought to life via an astute turn by Nao Omori.
The Ravine Of Goodbye is a film that demands your attention while also demanding much discussion and interpretation of the issues it raises, of which there are plenty. This review may not suffice in that respect due to the wish to not reveal every one of the key details but hopefully that gives you an idea of what an extraordinarily challenging film this is.
Boasting a stellar lead performance from Yoko Maki that engages from the start, I conclude this review by making a hearty recommendation for anyone with a love for thought provoking cinema to track this down if possible.