Two couples live in the same apartment building in a metropolitan area. On March 11, 2011, immediately following the Great East Japan Earthquake, the wives can do nothing but expectantly wait for their husbands’ returns. Their anxiety and loneliness increases, and government seems to be lying or hiding something. As suspicions grow, the two families’ lives cross as an upsetting event adds to their problems...
BUSAN -- The catastrophic earthquake and resulting tsunami off the coast of Japan in March 2011, now referred to as “3.11,” for obvious reasons has quickly become a social and creative touchstone, and the latest filmmaker to tackle the subject is Uchida Nobuteru, best known to now for his romantic drama Love Addiction. Using a mobile, fluid handheld camera and keeping the story intimately focused on two women in one Tokyo neighborhood, Uchida’s Odayaka addresses the internal devastation wrought by the quake and crafts a largely moving, if occasionally hysterical, picture of the psychological impact of the tragedy. The subject matter should keep both broad content and Asia-focused film festivals interested for some time to come, though an art house release, both regionally in Asia and overseas, is likely the best this low-key drama can expect. A life on specialty cable isn’t out of the question.
Odayaka begins just as the tsunami has receded. In Tokyo, Saeko (Sugiro Kiki) picks up her daughter from pre-school, while anxiously awaiting a phone call from her incommunicado husband and family in the affected region. In the meantime her next-door neighbor Yukako (Shinohara Yukiko) waits patiently for her husband simply to get home from work. Things soon go from bad to worse for both women: Saeko is blindsided by a divorce request that will leave her an isolated single mom and Yukako is met with nothing but apathy by a husband who opts to carry on as usual. As the disaster spirals farther and farther out, eventually including a nuclear power plant meltdown, both women manifest their increasing anxiety in acts of paranoia and desperation, which unsurprisingly climaxes in attempted suicide.
Among the strengths of Uchida’s look at Japan in crisis are the cumulative details that makeOdayaka’s sense of time and place that much more vivid. The post-quake barren supermarket shelves, the lack of running water, rolling brownouts and a general fear of food that’s taken for granted set a suitably uncertain and stressful tone. Uchida builds a palpable sense of foreboding nervousness that contextualizes the women’s decisions efficiently and empathetically. Also affecting are the sometimes bafflingly blasé reactions to the situation by those around Saeko and Yukako.
And it is in those other reactions that Uchida tucks his harshest criticism. Saeko’s husband’s request for a divorce is the subtlest insensitivity she experiences. Her desire to ensure Kiyomi is not exposed to radiation is met with patronizing deferral by teachers and outright hostility by other parents—chief among them the hypocritical wife of a power executive. Yukako’s pleas that they relocate fall on deaf ears, as her husband doesn’t want to rock the professional boat. Uchida asks why the collective acceptance of authority and the willingness to wait for direction is still so strong, and why and the few that won’t wait—or dare to question authority—are made pariah. The Japanese penchant for propriety over logic, action and, ironically, courtesy make many moments in Odayakafrustrating and possibly difficult to believe for Western audiences, but that emphasis on the power of ingrained behaviors (as opposed to rubble and ruin) to amplify the misery gives the film its guts. Above all it’s a revealing clue about how an already tragic situation got more out of control in the first place.