And Your Bird Can Sing (Japan, 2018) [JAPAN CUTS 2019]
Film adaptations of stories by the writer Yasushi Sato have slowly been made over the last decade with Kazuyoshi Kumakiri’s Sketches of Kaitan City (2010), Mipo Oh’s The Light Shines Only There (2014) and Nobuhiro Yamashita’s Over the Fence (2016) now joined by Sho Miyake’s And Your Bird Can Sing. All are set in the author’s native city of Hakodate in the north of Japan and all centre on the lives of working-class people, showing them with subtle shades of sadness in slow moving dramas struck through with moments of beauty for some uplift. And Your Bird Can Sing is the least dramatic of the bunch but no less engaging.
The film takes place over one summer in Hakodate and follows an unnamed protagonist (Tasuku Emoto), simply referred to as “Me” in the credits. He is a freeter who works at a bookstore while sharing an apartment with his unemployed friend, Shizuo (Shota Sometani). They pass their time together drinking from dusk until dawn and shambling home in a fit of giggles after some mild caper. “Me” will frequently roll into work with a hangover while Shizuo will potter around during the day in anticipation of the night to come which promises a repeat of their antics. They are young, aimless and content. However, their lethargic days are shaken when “Me” begins dating co-worker Sachiko (Shizuka Ishibashi). Independent and quietly rebellious, she is attracted to “Me” and his laid back nature. Curiosity turns into companionship as she gets roped into his hang-about life and meets Shizuo.
For “Me” and Sachiko, the future appears so far off as to be inconsequential especially with more immediate pleasures at hand which consist long nights spent bopping to beats in clubs or slipping in and out of a lover’s embrace but change will happen because there is an ever so gentle forward motion to the story driven by Shizuo’s growing attraction to Sachiko. Sho Miyake’s camerawork loves Shizuka Ishibashi’s spirited performance as she slinks and grooves through scenes. She imbues a liveliness to her character which naturally holds the attention of the audience as well as other characters, especially Shizuo, as his snatched glances and side-eyed stares segue into touchy-feely interactions during their many trips to karaoke bars and clubs.
“Me” seems to just accept the situation with indifference but the subtle shifting of emotions presages bigger changes as the three friends start to slowly slip away from each other at a time when employment and family pressures mount and provide unwelcome pricks of reality that let the air out of the snug and comfortable world they have created. It seems like the fun is over as responsibilities force them to reassess their situation having held life in stasis for some time.
This is a drama that explores the harmony of companionship and the gentle fraying of the bonds of friendship. The pace of the film is affected by the lifestyle of the three as they while away their time but the emotional fluctuations are there, lurking under the surface of scenes, usually noticeable in subtle movements of the actors. When the pressure mounts, hints of nastiness emerge, Sometani and Emoto are able to turn their character on a dime. They launch into aggressiveness and then reveal a more sympathetic worry to add welcome layers of emotions to characters that initially just seem aimless.
Miyake chooses to use this slow pace to delicately tease out the changes felt between these people in moments of low drama so the film ends up feeling like a tender and caring examination of characters preparing to face complicated feelings rather than something harsher as experienced in other adaptations of Sato’s work. Miyake probably captures the freeter lifestyle accurately. He respects and translates the pleasures of their lives, shooting everything with a pleasant light, often during dusk and dawn, giving the image a quality that softens everything and renders their activities and the city of Hakodate more beautiful than it could possibly be in reality. Reality can be harsh but there is some hope at the end of this film as they have to leave their freeter lifestyles behind. As much as they like hanging out, at some point the party has to end…
And Your Bird Can Sing is showing at JAPAN CUTS 2019 on July 22.