I gave up having cable or antenna television a year ago. Personally, I could no longer justify the waste of time that US television had become (including network news). Granted there are occasionally stellar shows, but those are so few and far between that I felt dedicating my TV setup to movie watching would be far more productive.
Japanese television is similar, apparently. Depending on whom you talk to, the 'drama' is engaging or innocuous; the variety shows are fun or are trying; and NHK's documentaries are illuminating or feel too much like school. Although the TV movie in the US has improved from the old two-hour episodes of Matlock or Murder She Wrote, outside of cable or public television TV movies are rarely on par with current cinema works.
But this time the stars came into alignment in Japan: the right filmmakers were teamed-up, the right crew was assembled, and a first rate cast was brought together. Sunday's Dream is possibly one of the best of the new Japanese works that I have seen all year-and NHK Osaka produced it for television.
Mother of god, this is the type of film that most filmmakers would give their eyetooth to make.
Kazuya (Kenji Mizuhashi) is quiet, non-committal, and an arguably disaffected youth. After being fired by his father, Yoshiki (Tetsu Watanabe)-who works at the same company-due to worker cutbacks, he moves in with his mother Shinobu (Lily). Shinobu soon gets remarried to Sakamoto (Shinya Tsukamoto), the same man who accidentally hit and killed Kazuya's grandmother, and begins to encroach on Kazuya's small amount of privacy.
Kazuya meanwhile is having no luck acquiring a new job, but he doesn't seem too upset by this fact. In a haze of boredom Kazuya finds his way to a 'no pants' sexual pleasure bar for men and meets Sachiko (Yumika Hayashi), a young playful woman who steals his heart. They agree to go on a date to the beach the following Sunday. However, on that Sunday Kazuya kills Sakamoto.
Years later when Kazuya is released from prison, Yoshiki takes him in. It takes Kazuya a little while to get back into the speed of things, but once he does, he tries to pick up life as if that Sunday had turned out differently.
Sunday's Dream has the deceptive quality of a 'slice-of-life' type of story, but this work is primarily concerned with exploring the psychological entanglements and motivations of Kazuya and the rest of his family. Written by Ryo Iwamatsu, who is purported to be a dramatic auteur known for his compelling representation of subtle human psychology, it is a tight script that holds an incredible level of commentary and depth within its minimalistic style.
But the good points don't end there. The camera work in the film is amazing-unbelievably the cinematographer is not even listed on the promotional material! This is hard to fathom considering every shot feels like the camera is perfectly aimed and turned on, always capturing a moment of wonder, small or large. The composition of every shot is well considered and impressive-indicating that there was a large amount of thought placed into them. The quality of the shots is even more impressive considering this was made on High Definition and not on film.
Beyond the camera work, the acting across the board, is first rate. But Kenji Mizuhashi stands out with his restrained but passionate performance as Kazuya, making us neither bored nor frustrated with the character's seeming lack of impetus and disinterest with the world around him. Tetsu Watanabe, previously seen in Hana-bi, is excellent as Kazuya's father whose loneliness is subtly and solidly portrayed. Lily is solid as Shinobu and Tetsuo and Gemini director Shinya Tsukamoto is suitably smarmy as Sakamoto. The big surprise is that former porn star Yumika Hayashi is also very good as the happy-go-lucky Sachiko (Tracy Lords could only wish to have this much skill as an actress).
Finally, accolades need to go to second time feature director Yoichiro Takahashi (Fishes in August is his first film), who demonstrates an incredibly large amount of control and patience in narrative's exposition. His attention to depth of field and the management of activity is rarely ever executed with as much skill in contemporary film. I have no doubt that if this guy keeps up this quality of work it will only be a matter of time before he becomes one of Japan's best new directors.
Ultimately, Sunday's Dream is a muted, pensive film with beautiful exposition and subtle, implied action. This is the kind of work that Japan was known for producing with the films of Ozu and Mizoguchi. While Sunday's Dream is different, it has that same sense of patience, total faithfulness to its story, and respect for the audiences' ability to understand it all-literal and implied. This is no small feat.
Try to see this film. It is absolutely worth your time.