Shadowfall (Japan, 2019) [Japan Foundation Film Tour 2020]

Based on a novel by Hideo Yokoyama and directed by Tetsuo Shinohara, Shadowfall is a drama that follows Shuichi (Masayoshi Yamazaki), a thief who has just been released from prison after serving two years. He was caught for the first time in his roughly twenty-year career when, while burglarizing a home, he discovered a woman about to commit a murder/suicide. He was arrested by old classmate and friend Sosuke (Pistol Takehara). Shuichi pays him a visit after his release to find out what happened to the woman, Yoko (Yuri Nakamura), as she reminded him of the traumatic loss of his mother and twin brother twenty years prior. When Sosuke is later found dead, Shuichi discovers a potential link between his friend, Yoko, some government officials, and the yakuza. Shuichi also has a long-suffering girlfriend, Hisako (Machiko Ono) that he wants to keep at arms’ length until he finds out who killed Sosuke so she doesn’t get hurt. While Shuichi meets with and gets information from other criminals that he has known for years, he is followed around by a young thief named Keiji (Takumi Kitamura) who tries to talk him into dropping the whole thing and getting on with his life with Hisako.

Shadowfall boasts an excellent cast and an interesting story. Shinohara and screenwriter Tomoe Kanno effectively uses flashbacks to tell Shuichi’s story and Hisako’s involvement in his life so that the viewer fully understands them both, making them very relatable and sympathetic. Even Yoko, the woman at the center of the mystery surrounding Sosuke’s death, becomes a sympathetic character as her story becomes clear. Shuichi is a man haunted by his past, having dropped out of law school and becoming a thief in order to punish himself for something he perceived as his fault. Hisako has stood by him over the years, even turning down a marriage proposal from another man named Jiro (Kenichi Takito), though that will come back to haunt her.

The film deals with themes of redemption, loneliness, and forgiveness of oneself for things the characters had no control over, though blamed themselves for. Each of the characters, Shuichi, Hisako, Jiro and Yoko are all seeking redemption and forgiveness, albeit for different reasons, so they can let go of their pasts and move on in their lives. It is also clear to see how lonely each of the characters are, as well as how their own actions led them there and how other people and events may have impacted those decisions in the first place. Shadowfall also deals with the special relationship between twin siblings in a weird but engaging manner with a number of characters, including the potential psychological damage caused by those relationships, and there are a few revelations that you won’t necessarily see coming. The film’s finale ties together all of the intertwining stories in a satisfying way, with the belief that there is hope for the future, at least for some.

There are a few scenes that come across as a bit melodramatic, such as when Shuichi tells Yoko about his past and when he confronts Jiro later in the film, but overall both the strong acting and directing make for a very entertaining story that is definitely worth seeing.

Shadowfall is part of the Japan Foundation Film Touring Programme 2020, which is showing at selected UK venues from January 31 to March 29.