The Light Shines Only There (Japan, 2014) [Japan Cuts 2015]
Based on the novel by Yasushi Sato, The Light Shines Only There stars Go Ayano as Tatsuo, a young man who spends his nights getting drunk and his days in a pachinko parlor after suffering a heavy trauma while working in a quarry. It is at the pachinko parlor that he meets Takuji (Masaki Suda), a rather carefree young man who has been in trouble with the law. Takuji invites Tatsuo back to his dilapidated home by the ocean where he lives with his invalid father, indifferent mother, and sister Chinatsu (Chizuru Ikewaki) who works as a prostitute to support her family. She is also a mistress to an obsessed married man who has given Takuji a job and kept him out of jail. Chinatsu and Tatsuo are attracted to each other, but the circumstances of their lives will only lead to disaster.
The Light Shines Only There is significantly darker than director Mipo O’s previous film Here Comes the Bride, My Mom! (2010) but she has done a fantastic job with this bleak, character-driven drama. All three of the main characters are damaged in some way, though Takuji is definitely the more positive and upbeat of them all. They are all misfits trying to find a way to fit in and live their lives. Tatsuo eventually comes up with a plan for the three but it will ultimately end in disappointment and disaster, such is the nature of these three people.
There are some explicit sex scenes but Ikewaki is a sensuous and natural process, which enables O to avoid the usual clichés associated with sex in films. Chinatsu is down-to-earth and sympathetic while also a mystery. Takuji’s enthusiasm can grate on the nerves at times, but I felt as though it was the character trying too hard to be, well, normal. Tatsuo is cold and callous at first, but becomes more human and sympathetic as the story plays out. The film is thoroughly engaging and you so badly want to see these characters succeed, though remain doubtful as a thread of hopelessness runs through the story from beginning to end. The Light Shines Only There is a beautiful film, although it is not for everyone with its slow burn approach and shocking sex scenes.
The Light Shines Only There was recently screened at Japan Society as part of this year’s JAPAN CUTS: Festival of New Japanese Film.