Film Review: “Radiance” (Hikari)

Spoiler alert: I’ve seen this film and am about to talk about it.  However, I suspect that not many of you will have seen this Japanese film, with subtitles.  It’s precisely the sort of quality foreign film you go to a film festival to get a chance to see.  Here’s its official trailer:

I saw the film today at the Edinburgh International Film Festival – along with a packed audience, who burst into spontaneous applause at the end – even though the makers of the film were not present.  This rarely happens – at least in my film-going experience.

However, there are a couple of things which make it strongly likely to be of interest to the visually minded: the lead female role is a woman who writes audio descriptions for films – and the male protagonist is a famous photographer who is gradually losing his sight.

Things I liked:

  • the cinematography places us in the viewing position similar to the losing of sight: everything is shot in extremely shallow focus, and often in closeup, mostly tight shots of faces.
  • It is visually beautiful.
  • I really enjoyed the opening of the movie, where the film describer is going through a normal street scene in her mind, finding words for the everyday movement of people.  A delight.
  • the music by Ibrahim Maloouf.  Listen to it in this key scene in the movie (below)


Things I didn’t like about the movie:

  • the film within the film starts out as a seemingly romantic declaration of love, but subsequent scenes show that the wife is dominated by the husband, suffers domestic violence and is possibly murdered by him.  None of this is challenged – is this acceptable, culturally?
  • the lead character’s complete naivete and lack of understanding even when the writer/director of the film within a film explains to her that not everyone wants to live forever
  • the blankness of her expression and those of the other actors, even though the camera is in closeup – there is still no readable emotion
  • the relentlessly tight picture framing on the faces forces us to view the lead actress’ eyes in extreme closeup – and she does have large eyes to begin with.  It seems like the rest of the film occurs only at the edge of these limpid, beautiful pools of eyes which we’re forced to look at in closeup.
  • Also, I find it rather unbelievable that this young, gorgeous girl suddenly falls for this much older man, whom she keeps addressing formally – even after grabbing his face and snogging him suddenly.

Screen shot 2018-07-01 at 21.57.25

Screen shot 2018-07-01 at 21.56.43

(What is the lead character expressing in these pictures, other than looking like a bland beauty on the cover of a magazine?)

There is a film within the film – she is repetitively working through different ways to describe this film and gets feedback from a group of blind people, which includes the male protagonist.  One particular blind lady specialises in whispering softly, with great smiles, the most devastating criticism.  It’s rather like being knifed in the chest by a cute toy rabbit.

Since the film was made in Japanese, it will be targeted at an Eastern audience, so a lot of what is culturally suggested or understood will simply be missed by me.  Therefore, please do take my view with a pinch of salt, and check with a Japanese film reviewer for a better assessment.

Its film Director

Naomi Kawase – the film’s director, is a very productive Japanese film director.  There are many different Youtube clips of her in action in French interviews (at Cannes, 2017), in Japanese (a TEDx talk) and in Spanish (at a film festival).  One of the longest talks by her which is translated into English is to be found in this one-hour Master Class, at Goteborg Film Festival.

However, in all the film clips, there is a common thread that, for her, cinema is a time machine.  It helps her to go back and revisit important events – such as conversations with her beloved adopted mother – and to share that experience with other people who view her filmwork – and at the same time to revisit herself as she was then, with her mother (because of the age difference, she refers to the lady as “grandmother”).

In this interview, she says, through the interpreter that “In making film, I explore what I lack in life”.

Is it a ‘go-see’?

For this reviewer, it is well made, rather sacchariney but with a few genuinely interesting pieces.  If you’re very geared towards visual art, then it will be of interest.  If it comes to town, go and see if there’s nothing else you’re more excited about.

But not a “drop everything and go, now”.


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