Influence from her time working as Hirokazu Koreeda’s assistant in the 90s is evident in Miwa Nishikawa’s The Long Excuse – a gentle yet powerful take on grief, loss and healing. And to an extent, marriage and parenthood echoing some of Koreeda’s take on family dramas but Nishikawa sprinkles in her own style.THE LONG EXCUSE

Based on the book that Nishikawa herself wrote, the film boasts a serene look at Japanese family. Putting in more emphasis on her characters than the plot itself, Nishikawa is able to capture and move the story and to a larger extent, the characters forward. She shows that there is no right way to heal and that it’s not easy to get over a loss. Here, the rawness speaks to us because we can relate to this. If not now, but perhaps in the future.

If anything, Nishikawa focuses on present and future; refusing us any flashback of Sachio and Natsuko’s life. Instead, she chooses to tell their story through the lips of a lost Sachio and unloved Natsuko. In the end, their relationship is not the focus because it lacks sentimentality instead Nishikawa forces you to look at the now and the later which means Sachio and the kids and his healing process.

Nishikawa also doesn’t patronize. While she explores the issues of parenthood and marriage, she doesn’t provide answers for it. It opens the door but also leaves it open for you.

Why have children?
How do you stay in love?

Helmed by cinematographer Yukata Yamazaki, a Koreeda regular, the similarities are not impossible not to point out. Yet Nishikawa channels her own touch.

Masahiro Motoki’s return to the screen after seven-years is evident (following 2008’s Oscar-winning Departures.) There’s a bit of a stiffness to his acting but serves his otherwise, struggling writer role right so I guess that worked out fine. But the real treat here are the kids, Shinpei (KenshinFujita) and Akari (Tamaki Shiratori) whose chemistry works well with Motoki’s awkwardness. As the three get closer, you finally feel the warmness. The stiffness fades. And you feel natural.

Nishikawa is not sappy, she doesn’t give us a rollercoaster emotions of a film. She doesn’t give us wishy-washy characters. Nikishiwa gives us something to deal with head-on. Despite its slow pace, The Long Excuse is riveting. And the score by Michiaki Kato and Toshihiro Nakanishi are beautiful.

Review by Jianne Soriano (Twitter: @jiannemsoriano)

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