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November 06, 2017

Denver Film Festival - Radiance


Naomi Kawase - 2017

Radiance is about the prickly relationship between Misako, a young woman who writes the audio descriptions for blind people to listen to while they "watch" a movie, and Masaya, a middle-aged photographer who is rapidly losing his ability to see. The two are at the beach. Masaya, knowing he can no longer continue as a photographer, tosses his Rolleiflex camera into the ocean. Misako shouts at him, "Why? Why". She grabs his head in her hands and the two press their lips against each other, to which I thought, "Why? Why?".

The history of cinema is of couples who fall in love at the drop of a hat or less. The kiss here came across as unmotivated and unconvincing, more so as neither character is particularly interesting. I can understand that after being known for films that have been both praised and dismissed for being their artistic concerns, that Naomi Kawase would want to make films that are more accessible and have commercial appeal. Kawase's previous film, Sweet Bean was both charming and endearing, making good use of Kirin Kiki and her patented dotty old lady act. Maybe the reason why Sweet Bean succeeded was due to Kawase making a film from someone else's novel as her source.

Kawase's heavy hand as a writer gets in the way of Kawase's abilities to let the images speak for themselves. Misako is writing the descriptions for a movie about an older man who's wife presumably has Alzheimer's disease. Misako's own mother also has Alzheimer's, depicted by her constantly waiting for her late husband to return home. Masaya is one of a small group of blind or vision-impaired people who offer Misako feedback on the strengths and weaknesses of her descriptions. Masaya also tries to live as independently as possible, sometimes resulting in his stumbling around the streets of Tokyo. The film within the film is mawkish. The company Misako works for is called White Light. There are several scenes with people staring at the sun, and even a magazine called "Radiance".

There are some interesting ideas in search of a better movie. In an attempt to improve her description of the film within the film, Misako interviews the director. This might seem like a good idea, but I would think Kawase should know better, that what how a viewer interprets a film might not be what the filmmaker had intended or assumed was being expressed. What this scene suggests is that the description writer's job is to convey the director's intentions rather than allowing the audience to form its own conclusions. At no time does the film seriously question whether providing an audio description for what is essentially thought of as a visual art an act of reinterpretation of someone else's work.

Radiance stars Masatoshi Nagase. Even if you don't recognize the name, Nagase has appeared recently as the Japanese poet in Paterson as well as an earlier Jim Jarmusch film, Mystery Train. Among the better known Japanese titles are Suicide Club and The Hidden Blade. Nagase also starred in Sweet Bean as the owner of the failing one-man restaurant whose fortunes change when an eccentric old woman volunteers to help him cook. See any of those films instead.

Posted by Peter Nellhaus at November 6, 2017 09:39 AM