If, like me, you have a morbid fascination with the strangest conspiracies of the far right, chances are you’ve encountered protests around the concept of the “15-minute city.” In theory, this urban-planning concept is designed to make life easier for residents: all important amenities, from schools to hospitals, located just a short walk or drive from people’s homes, cutting down carbon emissions in the process. Who could take against that? Well, a surprising number of people who sincerely believe this is the next step towards big government locking the global population within their homes and taking away all their personal freedoms, a line of thinking that has made it the latest pet peeve of the QAnon faithful.
Remembering Every Night, the sophomore directorial effort of Yui Kiyohara, isn’t about such a development, but while observing its gently idiosyncratic depiction of life in Tama New Town––a residential area on the outskirts of Tokyo, best known internationally as the setting of Studio Ghibli’s Whisper of the Heart––it’s easy to make a mental connection to this current topic of contentious debate. Everything from cafes to museums can be found a short journey from residents’ front doors, as are seemingly endless acres of public parks––an urban idyll nestled not too far from one of the world’s most densely populated cities. There may be a subtle melancholy to the three overlapping character studies in Kiyohara’s film, but watching it was one of the more soothing cinematic experiences I’ve had this year precisely from its sense of place, examining how this location proves surprisingly fruitful in providing life’s simplest pleasures to those who live there.
Set over the course of a seemingly unremarkable day, that melancholy reveals itself shortly after introducing Chizu (Kumi Hyudo), a woman on the older side of middle age who has been thrown back into the job market. Over the course of a meeting at the employment office––soul-sapping despite the friendliness of the man running down current vacancies, none of which she imagined for herself––she suddenly bursts into life and announces that today is her birthday. Out of nowhere, she starts jumping at every small moment which could bring joy: climbing up a tree to help some young children fetch a ball they can’t get down, or mimicking the moves of someone rehearsing a dance routine in the park. The actress plays these moments like a woman who has just discovered her body isn’t rigid, regaining a nearly childlike innocence when disrupting her unnoteworthy daily routine in the smallest of ways. And it’s crucial to the drama that this remains via only simple pleasures, never heightened even if Chizu increasingly comes out of her shell: Kiyohara doesn’t want to make you laugh at her behavior here so much as just smile at her embrace of it. There can be magic in the mundane.
Chizu is the first character we’re introduced to, and the two subsequent leads come into focus via their reactions to her behavior. Gas meter inspector Sanae (Minami Oba) comes across Chizu up a tree while on shift, while university student Natsu (Ai Mikami) encounters her in the park following her dance moves. That scene is the most joyous sequence in a film with several contenders, the student not revealing until later that she noticed the older woman following her steps in the corner of her eye, watching her even as she was dancing like no one was. Music and dance both play integral parts in what is effectively a story about an otherwise quiet public space; an introduction featuring a group of friends lazing about on the grass, playing around with their instruments, establishes the playful, improvisatory spirit which guides Jon No Son’s score, the kind that streaming service subtitles would reductively label “whimsical” even as it resists any easy categorization as such. And while the movie has two stand-out dance sequences, it’s also thematically grappling with the routine choreography of these characters’ stifling daily lives, all of which can be transformed with a simple change in step––a cringeworthy metaphor to highlight, perhaps, but for a film about life’s unadulterated joys, fitting nonetheless.
Kiyohara has succeeded in making a film documenting the pleasures too inconsequential to effectively capture in writing; it seems like a slight proposition until you let your guard down and experience them for yourself.
Remembering Every Night opens at NYC’s Film at Lincoln Center on Friday, Sept. 15 and LA’s Laemmle theatres on Sept. 22 and will expand.