By Caitlin Quinlan
Remembering Every Night
Dir. Yui Kiyohara, Japan, KimStim
Like many planned settlements built after the Second World War, Tokyo’s Tama New Town was designed as a place of structure and containment. The urban sprawl rapidly overtaking the Japanese capital forced city planners in the 1960s to find ways of inhibiting such spontaneous, unrestricted growth; they turned to the order of a new town, with its expanses of residential housing, parks, train stations, schools, and post offices, all neatly laid out like a child’s city play mat. There is a sterility to these towns by nature, but an undeniable sense of calm, too, in the straightforwardness of their design. There is equally something cinematic about them, their symmetry and composition lending themselves to wide, long shots of the landscape, and the suburban ennui that these environments can provoke has become a mainstay of the coming-of-age genre. Tama New Town, in fact, is the setting of two Studio Ghibli films, Pom Poko and Whisper of the Heart—in the latter, the protagonist changes the lyrics of John Denver’s “Take Me Home, Country Roads” to “Concrete Road” in reference to her hometown.
If the new town, or suburb, more broadly, has become a shorthand for a generic space upon which to project a story of malaise, Japanese director Yui Kiyohara rejects this in her second feature Remembering Every Night, where a day in Tama New Town is filled with the gently exciting specificity and individuality of three women’s lives. There is some malaise, undoubtedly, but there is also dancing, mandarin oranges, tiny cakes on popsicle sticks, the heat of a summer’s day. It’s a day made notable by small interactions and pleasures, whether stimulating or unremarkable. One character says to an older lady hanging out her laundry that the day is “good for washing”; why not cherish time for its mundanity as much as its spectacle?
The three characters in the film—the oldest, Chizu (Kumi Hyodo); Sanae (Minami Ohba); and the youngest, Natsu (Ai Mikami)—have only the slightest of interactions, passing each other in a park or absentmindedly watching each other from afar. Still, Kiyohara confers significance on these minor moments as instances of overlap. Following the film is like following a map of the town—here is the tree where Sanae sees Chizu helping some children retrieve their ball, and here is the path where Natsu cycles past Sanae as she guides a lost elderly man back home. They orbit one another in their world of shared spaces, unknowingly feeling the same loneliness or joy. Kiyohara uses the sensitive, guitar-laden score of musicians Jon no son and Asuna to lightly soundtrack the characters’ passages through the day, but she also leans into the hush of the environment. Sometimes all that can be heard is the soft breeze through trees or long grasses and, as such, a peaceful tone settles over the film, as if the world has taken a deep breath.
Over the course of the day, the light over Tama New Town, beautifully captured by cinematographer Yukiko Iioka, warms to sunny yellow and cools again to deep mauve. Chizu looks for a friend’s house in another part of town, only to discover they’ve moved on; Sanae collects gas meter readings and goes on a date with a camera shop employee; Natsu rehearses a dance in the park and commemorates the anniversary of her friend’s death. Kiyohara draws common threads between their stories, particularly those of history and loss—Chizu can’t find the house she’s looking for, like the old man that Sanae helps, and feels the loss of a friend like Natsu, albeit less tragically; Natsu visits the camera shop, hoping to find some photos taken by her friend, as Sanae waits in the shop’s back room.
Remembering Every Night and its trio of wandering women recalls the study of what Guy Debord and his fellow Letterists coined psychogeography; even if their walks around this suburban enclave have too much purpose to be true dérives, they maintain the flavor of these drifting and unplanned journeys across urban landscapes propelled by spontaneous encounters. The town holds memories and personal histories; in another moment of neat synchronicity, Natsu visits a museum of pottery with a friend while Sanae finds a novelty mug in a charity shop. The lives of these objects and the people who used them echo all around them. Watching the women almost meet one another over the course of this day emphasizes the myriad intersections of living in one place—these paths have been walked many times by these characters, by the people they knew, and by the filmmaker herself, too, who spent her childhood years in Tama New Town. This geographical environment has a clear impact on these characters and on Kiyohara, who builds this relationship between space and emotion into the film, her shots lingering on views over the highway or street corners until they shimmer with melancholy.
In Kiyohara’s film, this melancholy co-exists with tenderness and tranquility; the isolation felt by the characters slowly eases as their connections to the world around them become more apparent. In one of the film’s best sequences, Sanae, feeling let down by her date, watches a compilation of analog home movies that he is digitizing in the camera shop. Each clip shows a child blowing out the candles on their birthday cake, plump strawberries sitting atop swirls of whipped cream. For a moment, scenes of childhood happiness eclipse her adult heartbreak. When we return to her, standing alone on the street, her heartbreak hasn’t disappeared, but she appears stronger, more resolute. When Chizu and Natsu return to their respective homes at the end of the day, their relaxed body language suggests something feels different for them, too, even if very little has really changed. Through the film, Kiyohara offers them kinship, binding them to the same north star, so that even as they walk their own path, they sense the others’ pull on an invisible string connecting them.
In this way, Remembering Every Night becomes an expression of, and ode to, community, particularly among women. It finds beauty in the solitude of the suburbs, in those concrete roads that all seem to lead to the same place, in the barricade of tower blocks used to hinder the city sprawl. It draws in the sense of quiet these characters feel in their lives and reveals it as a shared experience between them, and perhaps us too, whispering that things will work themselves out, just as they always do.