By Tristan Teshigahara Pollack
For this year’s Tribeca Film Festival, I found myself in a inevitable quandary: there were too many films to choose from a festival that often gets dubbed the world’s leading cinema commodity. There may be some truth to that claim, however, we can not accuse the festival for dismissing some of the most neglected films in world cinema and (more recently) experimental filmmaking – last year’s festival saw the premier of Amir Naderi’s Cut amongst many other films. Nobuteru Uchida’s Odayaka Na Nichijo stands alone as one of those lost treasure troves. Odayaka makes an interesting case in the realm of post-trauma cinema because of the way it eschews the usual cinematic codes of trauma filmmaking. Before we unpack Odayaka, it is necessary to excavate further.
On March 14th, 2012 (a year after the March 11 tragedy), Dennis Lim published an article for the New York Times entitled, “Post-Traumatic Filmmaking in Japan.” For the purpose of this review, it will serve as a reference point. Lim outlines a comprehensive history of March 11 cinema, beginning with the Yamagata International Documentary Film Festival, which was the first Japanese festival to wholeheartedly tackle the earthquake/tsunami subject. He declares that a plethora of circumstances have rendered this sub-genre perennial in the canon of cinema: the immediacy of digital technology, the power of media and the the urgency to broadcast the looming danger. One cannot deny that the sub-genre is replete with images, undoubtedly images that inspire agony, disdain and guilt. Lim asserts that many of these films are tied between two roles: watchful reporter and manipulative artist. As Lim suggests, ethics and aesthetics don’t always mix so well. Now that the theoretical frame is in place, let’s explore the extent to which Odayaka employs trauma aesthetics.
Nobuteru Uchida’s third feature film (2nd fiction film), Odayaka, almost entirely takes place in the interior landscape of its protagonists (something unparalleled amongst most 3/11 films). The film’s title literally translates to “one calm day,” which is an irony in itself – with its wretched heroines at the center focus – the aura is pervaded by anything but calm. Uchida spent some time apart from the disaster. Fully aware of the moral issue of representing tragedy, he accepted the gap between the reality of the 3/11 disaster and the attempt to record it. Many filmmakers documented the tragedy in the most expedient manner possible, disregarding the oppressive effects of recording the aftermath.
The film centers on the plight of two married couples and the isolation that ensues, which brings about a communal division between those who are frantic and those who are relaxed, thereby drawing a more intimate portrait of Japan. Saeko (played by the distinguished Kiki Sugino) and Noboru (Yu Koyanagi) enter into wedlock because of an unplanned pregnancy, with the birth of their daughter Kiyomi, while Yukako (Yuki Shinohara) and Tatsuya (Takeshi Yamamoto) have tried for a baby, but to no avail. The couples are strangers in an apartment complex, divided by walls, but when Yukako receives and absorbs Saeko’s deluge of pain (both physical and mental), she breaks down her self-imposed wall and decides to help her. The two women eventually bond, sharing their concerns and doubts about the nuclear danger that looms over the nation.
Composed of suffocating soft-focuses, shaky camera movement, long takes (but not a single immoral tracking shot), Uchida’s watchful eye never once ignores the psychological drudgery that Yukako and Saeko face. In one telling scene Saeko confronts the kindergarten teacher to find out why her daughter is not wearing her face mask. The teacher hesitates, but then explains that Kiyomi felt ‘excluded’ from the rest of her class. The abject stoicism that pervades all hubs of community, whether it be personal or collective, is problematic to say the least. The film’s denouement marks some change of air, but it is still polluted by an implacable society that patronizes and punishes those who protest against it.
Director: Nobuteru Uchida
Cast: Kiki Sugino, Yûki Shinohara, Takeshi Yamamoto
Producers: Eric Nyari, Kiki Sugino
Cinematography: Shinichi Tsunoda
Editing: Nobuteru Uchida