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All Around Us
All Around Us (2008)

Tae Kimura and Lily Franky as the happy couple in All Around Us
Japanese: ぐるりのこと
Year: 2008  

Ryosuke Hashiguchi


Ryosuke Hashiguchi


Lily Franky, Tae Kimura, Mitsuko Baisho, Susumu Terajima, Tamae Ando, Norito Yashima, Minori Terada, Akira Emoto, Yuichi Kimura, Yusuke Saito, Yoichi Nukumizu, Rie Minemura, Takashi Yamanaka, Ryo Kase

  The Skinny:

Ryosuke Hashiguchi's first film in seven years is a wonderful exploration into a couple and their struggles with depression and contemporary Japanese society. With Tae Kimura's award-winning performance and Hashiguchi's assured direction, this is one of the finest Japanese films of 2008.

Kevin Ma:

Director Ryosuke Hashiguchi takes on eight years of scenes from a marriage in All Around Us, an intimate film about a married couple that plays out in epic length. This is understandably a difficult film for Hashiguchi, who is one of the few openly gay directors working in Japan. Not only is this his first film without any gay characters or gay themes, it's also a comeback of sorts seven long years after his previous film Hush!. All Around Us does run a potentially butt-hurting 140 minutes, but the length is easily justified thanks to its execution as well as a surprisingly well-struck balance between ambitious contemporary historic tale and intimate character study. Add that to Hashiguchi's confident direction, and you're in such good hands that it was like he was never gone in the first place.

Credit also needs to go to the film's cast, especially since Hashiguchi is known to be an actor-intensive director. Everything you might have heard about Tae Kimura, who won the Best Actress Award at the Japan Academy Awards and shattered a Departures sweep, is true. Kimura has the obviously more difficult role here, having to transform from a controlling professional woman to a depressed mess without exaggerating the process. The result does involve a lot of crying, but Kimura's measured performance makes us feel every bit of pain her character goes through. Unfortunately, her co-star, writer-novelist-illustrator Lily Franky, is playing her husband in his first starring role, and while the effectiveness of his extensive rehearsals with Kimura shows in their scenes together, Franky is ultimately a bit too wooden to carry a leading role like this, even if he is simply playing another version of himself.

This is especially surprising because the story is told from the perspective of Franky's character. The film starts in 1993, with Kanao (Lily Franky) running a small shoe repair shop and spending his days flirting with clients. At home, he has a pregnant wife named Shoko (Tae Kimura), who is so controlling over home affairs that she even designates what days of the week to have sex (marked by red x's on the calendar, a visual motif throughout the film). One day, Kanao's old classmate offers him a job as a courtroom sketch artist for the television news. With hopes of more money and an outlet for his art school training, he takes the job. Meanwhile, Kanao's slacker nature earns Shoko a mountain of disapproval from her overbearing family members, but she sees the good in her husband. For a moment, there is hope for Shoko, for Kanao, and for their growing family.

However, in Hashiguchi's most brilliant reveal, he cuts to six months after the couple's sweetest moment, showing their empty apartment before cutting to a memorial plaque for a baby their newborn son. All Around Us is a film that hides its biggest reveals, only suggesting them along the way through visuals. We find out that Shoko begins to sink slowly into depression during the following years, but Hashiguchi demands attention from his audience, only hinting at the events that lead to them with subtle visual clues. Overall, the film focuses on the gradual effects these events have on the characters, making for a true character piece.

On the other hand, Hashiguchi also wisely shows the passing of time in a way unique to only Japanese cinema. Through Kanao's job, see time pass via the most sensational court cases of the Japanese legal system over the last decade. Some of these cases include an unapologetic cannibal (a cameo by Ryo Kase), a mother who brutally murders her daughter's schoolmate, and, of course, a member of a certain cult that attacked a certain subway system. Some of these criminals give the film its creepiest and most powerful moments. However, foreign viewers may find these scenes lost in translation, as those who are not familiar with recent Japanese crimes will not be able to differentiate between one child killer and another.

Nevertheless, it's a minor detail that shouldn't affect the general appreciation of All Around Us. After all, Hashighuchi's film is less about contemporary Japanese history than how two people don't realize how much they need each other until years into their marriage, and it achieves that intention masterfully. Hashiguchi doesn't just create a wide range of characters that leave memorable impressions, but he also shows expert skill at pacing, giving just the appropriate length to each scene and injecting humor at the right times. Even though it's nowhere close to being an arthouse realist film, All Around Us possesses a humanity that makes it feel authentic to real life. Just as its title suggests, Shoko and Kanao may very well be just two people around us - and with all the celebrity divorces these days, a story like All Around Us only feels all the more relevant to our times. (Kevin Ma, 2009)


DVD (Japan)
Region 2 NTSC
2-Disc Special Edition
16x9 Anamorphic Widescreen
Original Japanese Language Track
Dolby Digital 5.1
Removable Japanese and English Subtitles
Various Extras

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