Sunday, May 26, 2024

Movie Review (LFF): ‘A Day-Off of Kasumi Arimura’ is Another Beautiful Creation from Hirokazu Koreeda

Director: Hirokazu Koreeda
Writer: Sakura Higa
Stars: Kasumi Arimura, Jun Fubuki, Shinnosuke Mitsushima

Synopsis: Playing a fictional version of herself, actor Kasumi Arimura enjoys a day off in this charming example of Hirokazu Koreeda’s rarely seen television work.


After seeing the first episode of Hirokazu Koreeda’s latest television venture, the soothing, delicately confident A Day-Off of Kasumi Arimura, the easiest recommendation I can give is that I only want to see more. It’s an unsurprising gut-reaction towards a director whose entire filmography has been built around tugging heartstrings, and, by now, he knows how to balance comedy and domestic drama better than anyone. A somewhat surprise inclusion to the 64th London Film Festival, this is a rare glimpse of Koreeda’s talent on the small screen, and, like Shoplifters (2018) and Like Father, Like Son (2013), fans of the director’s work will be pleased to know it’s just more of the same, a bitter-sweet, understated and multifaceted exploration on family and identity. Even in the reduced runtime of a 40-minute slice of television, this is a real treat from the Japanese director, and as spiritually fulfilling as you’d expect.

The basic premise is that this eight-episode show will tell separate stories each turn, all concerning what Kasumi Arimura (playing herself) will do on her day off from work. It sounds a little too cute, and it is, but the tenderness is perfectly balanced with an undercurrent of simmering tensions. As somebody unfamiliar with Arimura’s work as an actress, there’s no way of knowing how she’s approaching this blend of fact and fiction, but what is clear is that she brings an intelligent charm to everything on screen. In fact, all of the cast give natural performances, allowing for easy immersion and imbuing A Day-Off of Kasumi Arimura with the warmth of a cozy blanket and hot chocolate evening drama.

In this first episode, Kasumi returns home to see her mother (Fubuki Jun) after the production of her latest venture has been canceled. A few early seeds are sown that reappear in interesting ways, such as a recurring joke about colds – and I imagine things like this will be a regular template for each of the different episodes. A brief interaction with a boy hiding from his father at the train station reveals a bristling maternal instinct in Kasumi. She guards this fiercely, deep-rooted sadness slipping out in complicated flashes, particularly prompted by the resurfacing of long-buried memories and interactions with a brother (Mitsushima Shinnosuk) she seemingly hasn’t seen for many years.

Memories play a key role, both in terms of how we view them in isolation as comfort shots, but also in the way that other people can distort their meaning. A simple example is the homemade sweets that Kasumi keeps receiving in the post from her mother while she’s busy starring in films in Tokyo; Kasumi hasn’t really liked these since childhood, but to her mother, there’s no difference, she’ll always be her little girl. The nature of ownership is further unpicked during an awkward dinner table exchange. Kasumi’s brother proudly retells a story involving his own daughter, six years old, taken to the tallest building in Japan as a moment of bonding and joy. The problem is that Kasumi has the same memory with her father when she was a six-year-old girl, and so one memory has become another’s. ‘I felt like my memory had been taken away from me,’ she tells her mother in a rare moment of emotional exposure.

The narrative, like all of Koreeda’s work, is built up of these tiny doses of humanity, and all the ways in which one can subtly, significantly impact the other. Episode one in isolation is a gently affecting portrait of parenthood and grief, and while Koreeda’s handprints feel all over it, the script owes its debt to Sakura Higa, drifting seamlessly between honest reflection and whole-hearted connection.

This is not going to be for everyone, perhaps too ordinary, too soft and quiet compared to what many audiences are used to, although for those that do enjoy Koreeda’s work, or those – as many likely are – searching for comforting entertainment, this is a refreshing break from the standard full-throttle, factory-spun drama that dominates television. A Day-Off of Kasumi Arimura has no interest in showy outbursts or crafted action. And while it doesn’t waste your time, it doesn’t explode into life either. The show is little more than an invitation into a particular corner of the world, and the delight is that you simply get to be there.

While the charm is inherently baked into the naturalistic performances and sedate pacing, the show is aided by a gentle, plucky soundtrack that fits nicely with the pastel color palette, all these layers singing to the same tune and ensuring that you never forget what you’re watching. However carefully it wanders into serious drama, it always feels soothing. With its intimate character moments and steaming plates of delicious food, this is, in many ways, not so far from Joji Matsuoka’s Midnight Diner, which has found its own cozy corner on Netflix. If you like that, you’ll have a good idea of whether or not this for you.

In the end, as is the case with Koreeda’s best work, it’s the subtle complexity that stands out; a richly textured exploration of humanity, with spaces you can sink into, filled with characters you simply want to spend time with. A Day-Off of Kasumi Arimura is a slow burn, but it burns bright, and by the end of it, all I wanted to do was lean closer to the flame.

Grade: B+

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