Monday, February 1, 2010

Always zoku san-chome no yuhi/Всегда: Закат на Третьей Авеню

Directed by Takashi Yamazaki[1]
Produced by Chikahiro Ando
Keiichiro Moriya
Nozomu Takahashi
Written by Ryôhei Saigan (manga)
Takashi Yamazaki (screenplay)
Starring Maki Horikita
Hidetaka Yoshioka
Shinichi Tsutsumi
Hiroko Yakushimaru
Kazuki Koshimizu
Kenta Suga
Music by Naoki Sato
Cinematography Kozo Shibazaki
Editing by Ryuji Miyajima
Distributed by Toho
Release date(s) November 5, 2005
Running time 133 min.
Country Japan
Language Japanese
Followed by Always Zoku Sanchōme no Yūhi

The plot takes place in a small community in post-war Tokyo, and follows the interweaving story threads of a number of the community's residents over the course of a single year as Tokyo Tower is being built.

Norifumi Suzuki, consistently called "Suzuki Auto" by several of the other characters, runs a small auto repair shop, where he lives with his wife, Tomoe, and son, Ippei. Mutsuko Hoshino, a young girl from Aomori prefecture, comes to live with them and work as Suzuki's apprentice, having applied for the position as a one-year work opportunity. Though Mutsuko is initially shocked and upset at finding Suzuki Auto to be nothing like her expectations - a small auto repair shop where she's expected to do manual labor rather than a large company where she would be doing white-collar clerical work - she soon comes to enjoy her new life. Consistently called "Roku" (an alternate reading of the character for "Mutsu") by the Suzukis, she quickly becomes like a family member to them. Later in the film, she is given train tickets back to Aomori for the new year as a Christmas present, but she does not want to go back believing that no one in Aomori wants her to return. However, Tomoe reveals to her the letters she has been receiving from Mutsuko's mother and have kept secretly in accordance with the mother's wishes. Touched, Mutsuko chooses to return home to Aomori excited to be seeing her family again. She happily waves to the Suzukis, whom she thanks for a great year while leaving.

Ryūnosuke Chagawa is a dried-up novelist who lives across the street from the Suzukis and runs a small toy and candy shop out of his house. He writes a series of serial novels called "Shōnen Bōken-dan" (or "The Young Boys Adventure Club"). Though proud of his profession, he seems to be rather down on his luck (or talent) whenever he submits his works to be published or writing contests. Meanwhile, Hiromi Ishizaki, Chagawa's love interest, newly opens a bar nearby and is unpleasantly surprised one day when a man brings a young boy named Junnosuke to her shop. He tells her that his mother abandoned him and since Hiromi and the mother were friends—though Hiromi protests that they were hardly that close—Hiromi should take care of the boy. Hiromi reluctantly takes Junnosuke in for the time being, but is determined to find him another place to stay at. Later that same evening, Chagawa, comes to the bar to drown in his sorrows and Hiromi decides to give Junnosuke to him. Unable to resist Hiromi's charm and persuasion, Chagawa ends up taking charge of Junnosuke. In return for his allowing Junnosuke to stay with him, Hiromi would come by and visit them.

At first, Chagawa is very cold to Junnosuke since he does not really know how to be a proper parent to the boy, but he begins to warm up to him when he discovers that Junnosuke is actually a big fan of his work Shōnen Bōken-dan and the boy is equally awestruck and delighted that the author to his favorite series is right before his eyes. Over the course of the film, both become quite close and Junnosuke begins writing and even ends up having one of his own stories published in the Shōnen Bōken-dan serial.

The relationship between Hiromi and Chagawa also develops over the course of the film, as Hiromi suggests that she could move in and help raise Junnosuke. He eventually proposes to her on Christmas Eve, albeit with an empty box as he cannot yet afford a ring. Touched, she accepts his proposal, but then disappears the following day, seemingly gone from the neighborhood, and thus from Chagawa's life, forever. Her shop is put up for rent and it is revealed that she's "sold" herself off due to the inability to pay off a huge debt.

Somewhere along the way, Junnosuke gets a hold of his mother's whereabouts and tells Ippei about it. Both boys set off to find her, but their attempt ends in failure. Despite this, a wealthy businessman appears one day and claims to be Junnosuke's father. He tells Chagawa that he plans on adopting Junnosuke into his family and reclaim him as the heir to his business empire. Chagawa sends the boy off, thinking that Junnosuke would be much better off with his real father in a wealthy home than with him. After all, Chagawa is quite poor, and does not consider himself a good parent; he feels particularly lost in this matter without Hiromi. Junnosuke escapes, however, and returns to Chagawa, insisting, despite the writer's violent protests, that he would much rather stay with him.

The film is also filled with light-hearted moments which evoke a sense of romanticized nostalgia for 1950s Tokyo, a sub-genre or aesthetic which is quite popular in recent years in Japanese media. Though the Suzuki auto shop is quite small, the family earns enough money to obtain a modern electric refrigerator, and a black-and-white television, which is first switched on in front of the entire community, which has gathered in and around the house. Despite the serious and dark elements of the plot lines, and the overall difficulties of the characters' lives, episodes such as these give a feeling of the nostalgic idea of life in an easier time, a post-war Japanese "good old days".

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