See You Tomorrow, Everyone (Japan, 2013)

Yoshihiro Nakamura is known mainly for The Foreign Duck, The Native Duck and God in a Coin Locker (2007) and Fish Story (2009). His most recent internationally released film, See You Tomorrow, Everyone, offers more of his unique stylistic and narrative traits, but also with some significant shifts from his previous works.

The story focuses on the life of one character, the socially awkward and self-imposed recluse Satoru Watarai, who is wonderfully portrayed by Gaku Hamada (a rapidly rising star in the Japanese acting scene). Nakamura tends to favour adapting stories with multiple plot threads and character arcs (this script was adapted from a book, as is the case with many of his other films). There are some of these aspects here, though they are often centered on Satoru. He decides that immediately after graduating from elementary school he will never leave an urban complex where people can live, go to school, socialize and shop. The film slowly reveals the reasons for Satoru’s determination to live out his life within the concrete residential complex, but also the changes in inhabitants, living standards, and personal situations that he has to endure. The revelation of the act that causes Satoru to make his decision, and an emotional denouement, are characteristics now typically expected from Nakamura’s films. These traits also make these parts particularly strong, in contrast to some the film’s weaker qualities.

The main problem with See You Tomorrow, Everyone is its length. The first 30 minutes feel like the first hour, and most viewers will yearn for a change of pace in Satoru’s day-to-day activities. However, this is also a strength of the film, as it means it convincingly portrays the lead character’s monotonous lifestyle. Satoru exercises, reads, eats, buys cakes, practices karate, patrols the complex’s streets at night, and then sleeps. Eventually, he falls in (and out) of love; finds a job at his favourite cake shop; and says goodbye to more and more students that graduated with him from elementary school, as they are now moving out of the complex. As Satoru’s routine slows adapts to these changes, it is clear that Satoru’s life is all the more tragic because of the effects of these changes, and the effect of his own life not moving on. Then, just as we become used to this pace, and become curious as to whether or not Satoru’s life will eventually change, sudden shifts in tone occur.

The revelation of the act that caused Satoru to change his lifestyle injects a docu-drama feeling into the events on-screen. In the first half of the film, this feeling was absent, as Nakamura used stylistic touches to focus in on Satoru’s routine through both a comic and endearing perspective. The camera often remains static as Hamada gesticulates and proclaims statements in order to portray the central character’s life style. In particular, as Satoru goes about on his night patrols of the various apartment buildings, their use as symmetrical backdrops points to the influence of Wes Anderson. Then, after a pseudo-documentary-style flashback to Satoru’s last days at school, the camera often switches from static to hand-held – as Satoru becomes successful and then unfortunate in both love and his job.

The static shots and slow pans that usually punctuate scenes in Nakamura’s films are found in the second half, but the changes in style and tone are much more noticeable. This reflects the tone of the story, as Satoru’s life moves from happiness, to loss, tragedy, and then hope. That being said, it does make the film feel uneven. Satoru’s self-imposed seclusion is never condemned or praised, as is his will for many aspects of his life to stay constant. The film could be a commentary on the increasingly solitary lifestyles of Japanese urban inhabitants – and yet it is a period narrative (that begins in 1981), which suggests an air of nostalgia about the former status of urban complexes in Japanese cities. The one constant that remains is Satoru’s story. While you may be able to guess whether or not he stays in the complex indefinitely, you will not foresee the means by which he decides whether or not to stick to his lifestyle. The film is therefore an unpredictable tale, but a slow-burning one. If your curiosity is piqued by this high-concept premise, then you will be rewarded. However, if you are expecting more of the dynamic plot lines and colourful characters that were found in The Foreign Duck… and Fish Story, then you may be disappointed by its slower pace.