One of 2014’s best Japanese films, Daihachi Yoshida’s Pale Moon boasts a compelling narrative, sustained tension, nuanced characters and a career-best performance from Rie Miyazawa.
Pale Moon (2014)
Directed by Daihachi Yoshida Starring Rie Miyazawa, Sosuke Ikematsu, Satomi Kobayashi, Yuko Oshima Written by Kaeko Hayafune; based on Kami no Tsuki by Mitsuyo Kakuta
An ordinary, upstanding housewife embezzles a fortune. Does she do it to satisfy greed? To keep her younger lover? Or are the reasons buried deeper in her past? Yoshida translates Mitsuyo Kakuta’s (Confessions) novel into a suspenseful new masterpiece
“A delicious inquiry into the corruptive power of money …
and the human capacity for self-delusion.”
In 2012, director Daihachi Yoshida’s The Kirishima Thing took the Japan Academy Prizes for Best Picture and Director. Yoshida’s brilliant new film, Pale Moon—built around a career-best performance by Rie Miyazawa—is sure to score more top nominations this year. Pale Moon has already received the Audience Choice Award at the 27th Tokyo International Film Festival and is earning its place as one of 2014’s finest Japanese films.
The year is 1994 and Japan is coming to terms with some new realities following the collapse of the economic bubble. Rika (Miyazawa) is childless and trapped in marriage to a benignly neglectful husband who forbids her from having even a credit card. To fill her empty days, she has recently taken full-time employment at a bank where she does fieldwork visiting elderly clients to deliver documents and sell investments. She has gained the trust of her co-workers and clients and is lavishly praised by a long-time bank customer, Kozo Hirabayashi (Renji Ishibashi), for her honesty and care. Returning home one night, Rika bumps into Kozo’s grandson, Kota (Sosuke Ikematsu), a penniless university student whom she has briefly met at Kozo’s house. She is immediately taken by his shy attention and the two fall into an intense sexual relationship which fills the physical and emotional emptiness brought on by her marriage. One day, Rika “borrows” a tiny sum from one of Kozo’s deposits to help out Kota, and so tipsthe first in a long line of dominos. She is soon embezzling great sums from the bank and her clients to pay both Kota’s tuition fees and the bills for extravagant meals, gifts and a luxurious love nest. As her transgressions multiply, so does the suspicion of her employers, in particular from her steely, middle-aged superior, Sumi. Rika finds her precariously constructed world increasingly claustrophobic as its inevitable collapse approaches…
Naoki Prize–winning novelist Mitsuyo Kakuta’s source novel is a delicious inquiry into the corruptive power of money, the confusion of pleasure for happiness and the human capacity for selfdelusion. Yoshida’s film is non-judgmental, often playful in tone, and takes time to visit incidents in Rika’s Catholic school days that drive her pathology. Rie Miyazawa’s skilfully underplayed central performance is fascinating to watch; her bold and compulsive hedonism is shot through with a frail vulnerability that holds our sympathy throughout. She is nicely complemented by well-written and acted supporting performances, among which Satomi Kobayashi’s Sumi stands out. As Rika’s nemesis, she coldly monitors the moral weakness—conflicted superiors, vacuous junior employees—that surrounds her. Her contempt for Rika is tempered by a grudging envy, even admiration, as we learn her own backstory of stultifying self-repression.
Yoshida (Permanent Nobara; Funuke—Show Some Love, You Losers) is a filmmaker we have come to associate with understatement, sly humour and a particular gift with female characters; with Pale Moon he again plays to those strengths. The humour is buried deeper in the mix this time, pushing a compelling narrative, sustained tension, nuanced characters and skilful performances to the fore. Great fun and highly recommended.
Pale Moon is scheduled to make its Canadian premiere at the Toronto Japanese Film Festival in June.