Saturday, June 22, 2024

“MY SUNSHINE”

THE STORY – On a small Japanese island, life revolves around the changing seasons. Winter is time for ice hockey at school, but Takuya isn’t too thrilled about it. His real interest lies in Sakura, a figure skating rising star from Tokyo, for whom he starts to develop a genuine fascination. Coach and former champion Arakawa, spots potential in Takuya, and decides to mentor him to form a duo with Sakura for an upcoming competition. As winter persists, feelings grow, and the two children form an harmonious bond. But even the first snow eventually melts away.

THE CAST – Keitatsu Koshiyama, Kiara Nakanishi & Sosuke Ikematsu

THE TEAM – Hiroshi Okuyma (Director/Writer)

THE RUNNING TIME – 90 Minutes


Within the last few years, the Cannes Film Festival has proven it has quite the knack for selecting heartwarming Japanese cinema to showcase, which continues to delight festival and filmgoers worldwide. Some recent examples include two of Hirokazu Kore-eda’s features — “Monster” and “Shoplifters” (the latter being Japan’s most recent Palme d’Or win, in 2018), as well as Wim Wenders’ highly praised “Perfect Days,” from last year. And now, there’s emerging Japanese filmmaker Hiroshi Okuyama, whose feature debut “Jesus” (2018) won the New Director’s Award at the San Sebastian Film Festival, back for round two with his latest film, “My Sunshine” (premiering in Un Certain Regard), which is no exception to this joyous phenomenon.

“My Sunshine” takes place on a quaint Japanese island, where life moves slowly and the changing seasons are depicted akin to a peaceful, omnipotent character overlooking the island residents. One of the dwellers is Takuya (Keitatsu Koshiyama), a boy we meet on a baseball field, face to the heavens and entranced by the fall of the first snow of the season. To the exasperation of his teammates, he completely misses a ball thrown his way. In the same vein that winter replaces autumn, ice hockey comes along to replace baseball, and Takuya is out on the rink, getting pelted in the chest by a puck. It’s not until he observes a talented skater his age – Sakura (Kiara Nakanishi) and her figure-skating coach and former skating champion Arakawa (Sōsuke Ikematsu) – when a sport truly piques his interest. He begins to imitate their lessons, attempting to teach himself after hours at the rink until amused coach Arakawa agrees to teach him free of charge, which sparks the beginnings of a wholesome team and friendship.

The film is written, directed, edited, and shot by Okuyma, which makes it all the more impressive that the emerging filmmaker is only 28 years old. “My Sunshine” is already Okuyma’s second feature, and comparisons have been made between the young artist and the esteemed Kore-eda. The film’s writing is quite simple, and nothing to shout about from the rooftops. Still, the script is obviously personal to its creator, and its simplicity is a study of the beauty in quiet, minimalist filmmaking. Okuyama is the equally rare and divine combination of a delicate director and detailed cinematographer, relishing in the small details and the unassumingly mundane. Each static shot framing a pastel snow-covered village or the grass of a spring field undulating in the breeze is a cathartic experience — immersive and calming. A soft, floating score serenades the viewer and accompanies the subdued images on the screen in a delightful sense, providing a reminder of the wonders every day. One of the recurring melodies is the Clair de Lune movement from Debussy’s Suite Bergamasque, which serves as a classical backdrop for many scenes. Even the film’s title comes from the inspiration director Okuyama received after listening to the song “My Sunshine” by Humbert Humbert, which spurred the creator to tell this story.

Performance-wise, Okuyama has made the exciting and risky decision to cast children who were skilled figure skaters but not trained actors. Due to this, much of the script became a “free for all” for the children, as very few of their lines were concrete. As a pleasant result, all the improvised conversations and spontaneous interactions between the young Koshiyama and Nakanishi seem more authentic, childlike, and endearing. Narratively, “My Sunshine” is quite simple, so this is a prime example of a situation where experimenting with non-actors benefited the film. Sōsuke Ikematsu, a trained adult actor who portrays Arakawa, gives a subtle yet layered performance as the children’s figure skating tutor. He was once an awarded and revered skate champion in Japan and is now a children’s coach on a small island; the inner turmoil and apprehension regarding his situation and future comes out in Ikematsu’s impressive internalized acting. Ryûya Wakaba also has a lovely yet small recurring role in the film as Arakawa’s partner, filling these shoes with delicate prowess.

There’s another, albeit quiet, aspect of the film that explores the connection between Arakawa and his partner, with this subtle queer relationship woven into the overarching story. It’s discreet and unassuming — mainly shown, not spoken about, but it quickly becomes the surprising crux, taking the film in a new direction in the last act. When Sakura witnesses Arakawa and his boyfriend together in public, she realizes the truth about their relationship. She tells her parents, who ultimately remove him from his coaching. When this happens, there’s no mighty comeback, no emotional apology. It just happens, and our characters move on with the changing weather, as often happens in life. Japan’s view on homosexuality, masculinity, and relationships are lightly touched upon, but there’s no deep dive, for there isn’t a need. Change and sorrow, happiness, and friendship are other themes gently reflected throughout the film, echoed in our characters’ experiences and undulating in the break of spring, the first fall of snow.

“My Sunshine” is not extremely rich in narrative or an exploration of Japanese politics by any means, but it was never meant to be that sort of film, and, frankly, Okuyama is not that type of filmmaker. Instead, it’s a gentle and quiet vignette depicting childhood friendships, growth, coming of age, and relationships that ebb and flow naturally. We watch as characters learn to let go, appreciate the present, and adapt to their situations and surroundings authentically as they make their way through the seasons of nature as well as change. The film serves as a reminder to take a deep breath, enjoy whatever season of life one may be in, and see the romantic beauty in everyday life. The director himself has been quoted saying, “I learned that all experiences are worthy of a film,” and this heartfelt ethos of his is like a warm glow that’s present in each of his aesthetic and beautiful frames.

THE RECAP

THE GOOD - The performances by the entire cast are charming and authentic, elevated by a lovely score and picturesque cinematography. A gorgeous, personal story that's more than easy to get emotionally invested in.

THE BAD - The thin script and lackluster dialogue. Doesn't leave you with any lasting memorable impact.

THE OSCAR PROSPECTS - None

THE FINAL SCORE - 7/10

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<b>THE GOOD - </b>The performances by the entire cast are charming and authentic, elevated by a lovely score and picturesque cinematography. A gorgeous, personal story that's more than easy to get emotionally invested in.<br><br> <b>THE BAD - </b>The thin script and lackluster dialogue. Doesn't leave you with any lasting memorable impact.<br><br> <b>THE OSCAR PROSPECTS - </b>None<br><br> <b>THE FINAL SCORE - </b>7/10<br><br>"MY SUNSHINE"