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Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Nippon Reviews: Hello, Supernova

Hello, Supernova: Written and directed by Yuichiro Konno.  Starring: Chisei Ushio, Mitsuhara Kobayashi, Azusa Kamimura, and Kaori Ozawa.  Running Time: 88 minutes. 

Rating: 4/4


            Hello, Supernova is one of those singularly unique and personal films that defy any attempt to shoehorn it into a “normal” reviewing format.  It is one of those films that can only be experienced.  In only the second feature film by the director, Yuichiro Konno, Hello, Supernova eschews any form of narrative structure, instead immersing us in a series of seemingly random scenes and long takes, presenting an affectionate tribute to the director's hometown.  

            We follow a handful of normal, yet somewhat oddball, characters through what may or may not be a typical couple of days in a quiet Japanese city.  Their daily lives intersperse here and there, and while there is no indication of deep friendship or kinship between most of them, they nonetheless seem completely unsurprised when one of them re-encounters another, like the people you recognize in your morning bus to work.  It’s as if random meetings are the order of the day here.  Theirs is a universe of peaceful acceptance of the random nature of life.  A few of them are more prominently featured than others; one is a young painter seeking inspiration, convinced that he’s not good enough to draw moving figures until he happens across a chicken; another is a housewife, who decides to wander the city while her husband is away; a third is a woman seeking…people, it seems.  She’s not sure what it is she’s looking for, since she just recently arrived there, but she assures everyone she meets that she’ll know when she finds them.  There are few introductions, and we learn little about everyone's pasts- we are simply placed into this world, with these people, and watch them as they live. 

            In a Q&A following the film, Konno told us that he drew inspiration for the characters in the film from many people he himself has met in the city where they filmed.  He described it as a place filled with individuals that are strange or off-beat in unexpected ways, people who will start up conversations with random strangers about the benefits of ice cream in winter, or stop to re-name someone’s dog.  And none of this is taken as untoward- everyone seems to understand that things like this can happen at any time.  A particular scene comes to my mind as I write this- the housewife, who has spent the entire day and evening wandering, locates an unlocked van with a blanket inside, and curls up to sleep.  That alone would give most people I know pause, but the kicker comes the next morning, when the van’s unsuspecting owner gets in to go to work.  When he realizes what happened, he’s not shocked that he left the car unlocked and that someone let themselves in, he’s shocked it’s happened again

            Konno was also moved to make the film by seeing the effects of the earthquake- and subsequent tsunami and nuclear disaster- in 2011.  The tremors were felt throughout the city that day, and since then a lot of people have ended up moving to other areas of the country.  These events are referenced only obliquely- one women yells at the painter when she enters, asking him if he felt the ground shake.  And there is a certain general loneliness to be found in the film- it seems to be a decently-sized city, but it looks so empty.  Perhaps these characters are constantly running into each other simply because there just aren’t too many people left for them to run into.  

            It is, first and foremost, an atmospheric film, pulling us into the moments it depicts mostly through the use of moving long takes.  Long takes are often a mixed bag, sometimes working brilliantly, and sometimes serving only to bore; here, thankfully, they work incredibly well.  Why is that?  Why did I find this to be such a great film?  I can’t quite say.  All I can say is that, when the painter enters a bird shop, and the young shopkeeper starts singing a song about lonely stars, shining the sky, I felt myself affected in that quiet way only a great movie can accomplish, beyond words. 

            I could, perhaps, list more specifics of what happens over the course of the movie, but I feel that would merely serve to confuse anyone who hasn’t already seen it.  The scenes are strange, odd, and lovely, all at once.  Perhaps they work because, even though they have no clear connective tissue between them, they feel completely natural and unforced.  We are simply seeing lives, or parts of them, with none of the pretension that there is always some greater narrative driving our actions.  The characters live fully moment to moment, never demanding that there be a purpose or reason for each and every thing they see.  And when the time comes, they simply pass along to the next moment.  Perhaps this is a good template to follow for life in general.  I couldn’t name what it was that I experienced watching this, but an Experience it certainly was, and one I am not likely to forget anytime soon. 


-Noah Franc 

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