It Stopped Raining (Shizukana Ame)
Japan (2020) Dir. Ryutaro Nakagawa
We all fear losing our memory as we get older, robbing us of the chance to reminisce over those moments in life we enjoyed or helped shaped the people we are. If there is one type of amnesia likely to prove most problematic, it is short-term memory loss, where the past is intact but the present is gone with each passing day.
Yukisuke (Taiga Nakano) is an unassuming bio-archaeology research assistant who stops by a small taiyaki stall run by Koyomi (Misa Eto). Becoming attracted to her, Yukisuke makes it a daily occurrence to visit the stall and get to know Koyomi before he summons up the courage to ask her out. Unfortunately, on her way home, Koyomi is hit by a car and falls into a coma, the accident leaving her with short-term memory loss.
As Koyomi’s mother (Naomi Kawase) doesn’t stay around to tend to her daughter, she leaves it up to Yukisuke to be there for her. He invites Koyomi to move in with him, but whilst she has memories of everything prior to the accident, every day is a new day for Koyomi. Despite his feelings for her, Yukisuke struggles to keep up the daily façade of repeating everything for Koyomi’s sake.
I’m sure you are reading this and thinking “a Japanese version of Adam Sandler’s 2004 rom-com 50 First Dates”. Well, that already exists in 2018’s 50 First Kisses. Agreed certain plot elements are shared but there are also key differences in It Stopped Raining (aka Silent Rain) which allow it to stand as a variation on a theme without fear of reprisal as a rip off or another localised remake.
First, it is based on the novel Shizukana Ame by Natsu Miyashita, and secondly Yukisuke doesn’t need to completely re-enact Koyomi’s birthday or hide the real date from her as Adam Sandler does for Drew Barrymore. Also, being Japanese this is a far more well mannered affair and isn’t played for laughs, preferring to ride the low-key drama route, but not going so heavy with the drama.
One thing for sure, this is an unlikely romantic tale given Yukisuke’s uber-nerdy vocation and his lame left leg that has him dragging his foot when he walks. He is immediately set behind the eight ball as far as him being a viable love interest, and since this isn’t Hollywood, Yukisuke doesn’t have a gregarious personality to make him stand out, only his genuine politeness and lack of ego, which seems goes far in Japan.
Koyomi is the more headstrong of the two – she’d need to be to run a small business on her own – and whilst not presented as glam or overtly desirable, has a modest, girl next-door prettiness about her that make her attractive as a potential partner. The growth of the relationship is slow and steady, based around amiable conversations of Koyomi’s skill at cooking taiyaki – small fish shaped pastries for the uninitiated.
The fateful accident isn’t shown, only the aftermath. Yukisuke loyally sits by a comatose Koyomi in the hospital while her mother only shows up to hand the reins of responsibility over to him. When Koyomi recovers, little about her personality has actually changed, only the anterograde amnesia causes each day to feel like a reset for her, though she still knows how Yukisuke is, and that she runs a taiyaki stall.
Since the accident happened on a rainy day, the film’s title comes from Koyomi’s first observation of the morning: “It’s stopped raining”. A patient Yukisuke smiles, announces he has something to tell Koyomi, and makes her a cup of coffee to make the chat cosier. This becomes a daily routine for them except Yukisuke has to repeat it over and over, and naturally it start to wear a little thin, but he puts on a brave face to hide this.
Unfortunately, the cracks show when Koyomi forgets that Yukisuke hates broccoli which she cooks every day, or when an old boyfriend (Masato Hagiwara) arrives in town, and Yukisuke is hurt by the fact Koyomi remembers more about him that she does Yukisuke, though it obviously isn’t her fault. This is actually the only major conflict in the film, and in typical Japanese fashion is resolved quickly with neither one having to say a word.
Perhaps a little more in the way of challenging drama would have give this film the spark it was lacking to kick it into second gear. With the crisis averted in a matter of moments, the lack of jeopardy to the relationship makes it feel less realistic by being too convivial. However, the argument could be made for being bold by eschewing the overplayed card of fraught melodrama of tearful showdowns before the inevitable making up.
Nakagawa seems aware of this thus his direction is kept simply and workmanlike, the only artistic motif being the 4:3 picture ratio. Colour is mostly muted in keeping with sober tone and greyness of the suburban location, the musical soundtrack all but absent, where I am sure some might be expecting more whimsy given the premise. Maybe the idea is to tackle this sincerity and realism and leave the fantasy to others.
Luckily, the two leads establish a nice enough chemistry to make this work with a solid support cast which also includes veteran Denden. Taiga Nakano (who was also in 50 First Kisses) effectively contorts himself into becoming Yukisuke, another of those everyman characters to give hope to the least of us. Misa Eto is a former J-Pop Idol making her debut and is impressive in keeping Koyomi’s repetitive scenes engaging and warm.
It Stopped Raining takes a different approach to the amnesia plot premise, preferring a quiet, amiable narrative over an emotionally taxing one, or being a cliché-ridden rom-com to get cheap laughs from this unfortunate impairment. Maybe too gentle for its own good, it’s a nice, thoughtful, if not always memorable way to pass the time.