The Last 10 Years (Yomei 10 Nen)

Japan (2022) Dir. Michihito Fujii


“Oh life is bigger

It’s bigger than you

And you are not me”

To be fair, REM, life is bigger than all of us which is why some us don’t know what to do with it. Others sadly don’t get the chance from being born with or contracting illnesses that blight their daily existence, but also give them a unique perspective on life.

Matsuri Takabayashi (Nana Komatsu), a 20 year-old woman, is stricken by a rare lung condition, and while treatable, is not curable. Doctors have given her ten years to live provided she takes this easy but after terminally ill hospital roommate Reiko (Sei Ando) tells her to live her life to the fullest, Matsuri decides not to dwell on her illness. This also means forgoing romance to keep her emotions in check.

During a high school reunion a few years later, Matsuri reconnects with Kazuto (Kentaro Sakaguchi) who is too shy to ask her out. When Kazuto attempts suicide but survives, Matsuri visits him in hospital and berates him for not appreciating his health. After being discharged, Kazuto decides to rebuild his life which also means confessing to Matsuri, but she pushes him away, knowing how it will end.

It’s fair to say The Last 10 Years presents cynical film fans like myself with a problem. You’ll have noticed from the above summary that the plot doesn’t stray very far from the usual romantic formula, something I’d normally hold against it. However, in this instance, it feels disrespectful to do so since the author of the novel this film is based on, Ruka Kosaka, died aged 39 in 2017, ten years after it was published.

A part-fictionalised account of her own experiences living with a terminal illness, Kosaka may not have been particularly ambitious in her plotting but the sentiment and positive outlook it proffers is commendable. Having not read the source material, I can only infer Kosaka was intent on creating a story to reassure those around her when her time came, whilst giving herself a dream future she may not have had.

Known for darker, challenging films, director Michihito Fujii, takes on the task of bringing Kosaka’s work to life and approaches it with respect for the material by leaning heavily into the conventions of the genre, visually and in its sensibilities. I suppose this is my way of saying whilst this isn’t the most original film, it does what it does well enough within these parameters and delivers what is expected of it.

For example, the opening shot is of cherry blossom trees undulating in the breeze before panning out to reveal the hospital room where Matsuri and Reiko are going through the films on Reiko’s camcorder she will give to Matsuri. This is in 2011, and is followed by Reiko’s funeral and a jump to 2013 for Matsuri’s discharge from hospital, but not to a life of freedom, rather one where the spectre of her demise looms heavy over everything she does.

Pillboxes full of medication, an oxygen tank, and an emergency wheelchair are the new normal for Matsuri from now on. Another time skip, she defies her naturally concerned parents Hideko (Hideko Hara) and Yutaka (Akihisa Takabayashi) and older sister Kikyo (Haru Kuroki) by meeting up with old friends and scoring a job with mate Sanae (Nao) at a publishing firm.

2014 is when the school reunion happens and although Matsuri and Kazuto don’t spend much time together, Kazuto is taken with Matsuri. However, Kazuto is at odds with his family who have disowned him, making him feel worthless enough to jump from his apartment window. Luckily, he only suffered a broken leg and the usual bumps, but his dismissive attitude to his life upsets Matsuri, who summarily leaves.

Really, I shouldn’t need to go any further with the story, as I am sure you can guess what happens, but I’ll oblige anyway. By 2016, Kazuto picks himself up and learns to cook from restaurant owner Gen (Lily Franky), deciding his change in fortune is  attributed to Matsuri giving him strength. But as he prospers, Matsuri’s health gradually deteriorates, and the closer they get, the more Matsuri struggles to hide the truth.

Without knowing the percentage of fiction vs. Kosaka’s real experiences, the schmaltz level has to be taken with a pinch of salt, but the message about making the most of life and not leaving any regrets behind shines through regardless. If Kosaka did have her own Kazuto then this is a touching tribute to him, just as Matsuri is totem for anyone needing strength in the face of their final countdown.

Since there is little deviation from the norm in terms of narrative and presentation, by right this should be a flaccid, manipulative film to get people weeping into their hankies for 124 minutes. Instead, it toys with this approach but then hits you with scenes of real raw emotion that make you forget you are watching a performance; the scene where Matsuri finally admits she doesn’t want to die and breaks down in her mother’s arms is so underplayed as a dramatic moment it catches you by surprise with its veracity.

Nana Komatsu remains one of the hardest actresses in Japan to pigeon hole, by dint of her appearing in everything from anime adaptations to arthouse drama to genre fare like this; the upshot is she always delivers, finding something in each role to make her own in spite of her distinctive features. Matsuri might appear a simple, wistful character at first, well suited to Komatsu’s ethereal aura, but the layers are slowly peeled back, and all we see and feel is Matsuri not Komatsu.

Essentially a genre standard outing, The Last 10 Years rips at the heartstrings through the added tragic leverage of its literary origins but stands up as a relatively mawkish-free weepy. Strong performances, typically lush cinematography and an elegiac musical score bolster the overall experience even for the stonehearted.


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