Movie Review: Tokyo Night Sky Is Always the Densest Shade of Blue/夜空はいつでも最高密度の青

If you’re the highly observant type, one who notices the things that are happening around you while everyone else remains oblivious to them, then TOKYO NIGHT SKY IS ALWAYS THE DENSEST SHADE OF BLUE might just be the film for you.

Mika (newcomer Shizuka Ishibashi/石橋静河) is a hospice nurse at a rather nondescript Tokyo hospital. To supplement her income, or perhaps to add some colour to her drab life, she moonlights as a hostess in a “girlie bar”, pouring drinks for bored, drunk and horny salarymen. But even that job doesn’t cheer her up any as she heads home each night to her equally nondescript dormitory flat where her pet turtle awaits. Tokyo is a lonely city for Mika whose feelings towards the place can be summed up when she says, “The moment you love Tokyo, it’s like you’ve killed yourself.” (So she hates Tokyo but you call that living?) Meanwhile, Shinji (Sosuke Ikematsu/池松壮亮) slaves away as a day-labourer at a 2020 Olympics construction site. His life is not all that different from Mika’s. His wages barely cover the rent of his tiny flat plus a few beers and snacks each night with his three work buddies, the young and confident Tomoyuki (Ryuhei Matsuda/松田龍平), the older and physically broken Iwashita (Tetsushi Tanaka/田中哲司) and Filipino migrant Andres (Paul Magsalin).

Mika and Shinji cross paths one night when she walks into one of the bars where Shinji and his friends have gone to blow off some steam and dream about better days ahead for all of them. Though the two don’t interact this time, they meet a few days later when he comes into her bar. Will these two lonely hearts find happiness together? Director Yuya Ishii/石井裕也’s (THE GREAT PASSAGE) screenplay won’t allow that to happen at least not yet. As chatty as Shinji is, Mika is reserved. As upbeat as Shinji is (or at least as upbeat as he is considering his circumstances), Mika is dour. They both have pasts that they need to deal with though. For Mika, it’s an ex-boyfriend who claims he still loves her and a mother who died far too young. For Shinji, it’s the loss of vision in one of his eyes, which seems to have taken away his will to achieve more with his life. But the pair do manage to eke out a bit of joy in their few encounters together (I wouldn’t call them dates in the traditional sense), such as when they both notice a dirigible flying over the city while everyone else around them is glued to their mobile devices, when they find a stray puppy on the side of the road, or when they agree that the Tokyo night sky is always the densest shade of blue.

A Bloomberg article from earlier this year claims that in the world’s biggest economies, Japan’s millennials are the least optimistic. Certainly, Mika and Shinji fit the bill as the two are going nowhere fast and they know it. Even if they would consider getting married, they wouldn’t be able to afford it. Raising children? Forget it. That sense of frustration and disappointment is also being felt by Hong Kong’s youth today. During Occupy a few years ago, I chatted with some people who were camped out on the street in Causeway Bay. They were both teachers, having recently graduated from university. They told me that with what they are earning, they couldn’t possibly afford to buy a flat in Hong Kong, much less raise a family. Both were considering moving overseas where the quality of life is better than it is here. That’s probably why this film is resonating so well with young people wherever it has played. As morose as Mika and Shinji are, sadly, young people are seeing themselves in them.

TOKYO NIGHT SKY IS ALWAYS THE DENSEST SHADE OF BLUE is based on the poetry anthology by Tahi Saihate/最果タヒ, a young woman from Kobe, Japan, who has made a name for herself writing a blog and posting her poetry online. She has won a number of awards for her work including the prestigious Nakahara Chūya Prize, which is presented annually to an outstanding collection of contemporary poetry characterised by a “fresh sensibility”. Saihate’s poetry is scattered throughout the film with most of it being spoken by Mika. Admittedly, it makes for some rather stilted conversation, so if realistic dialogue is your thing, you will find this film tough going.

Ishibashi, who is the daughter of famous Japanese actress Mieko Harada/原田美枝子 (RAN; IF CATS DISAPPEARED FROM THE WORLD), does good work here for her first effort, as does Ikematsu. Both performances brought sniffles to the people sitting behind me in the cinema. Cinematographer Yoichi Kamakari/鎌苅洋一’s Tokyo is a colourful but impersonal mixture of big city and cold heart, which is just how all the characters — not just Mika and Shinji — see it. Throughout the film, animated scenes are thrown in to add to the fable-like quality of the story. You will either love these scenes or roll your eyes with their Hello Kitty-ness.

While this is not my kind of film, I can appreciate that younger audiences may identify with the characters’ millennial angst. It certainly is different from most of the other young adult-oriented films coming out of Japan these days.

Watch the review recorded on Facebook Live in RTHK Radio 4’s studio on Thursday, December 14th at 8:30 am HK time!

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