In 2016, Daigo Matsui directed the adaptation of Mariko Yamauchi’s novel Azumi Haruko wa Yukuefumei. While this narrative questioned the very way Japanese women are (often) treated by men, Daigo Matsui ultimately failed to let the sincere message reverberate in a powerful way. While there are many reasons one can think of to explain this failure, it is striking that Daigo Matsui, contrary to expectations, didn’t write the screenplay of this narrative. For Ice Cream and the sound of Raindrops Daigo Matsui returns to the double-job of writing and directing, presenting us an adaptation Simon Stephens’ acclaimed play morning.
March, 2017. In a small Japanese town, six young people (Kokoro Morita, Reiko Tanaka, Taketo Tanaka, Yuzu Aoki, Guama, and Jotaro Tozuka) are chosen by auditioning to perform a play. The play concerns a girl whose friend is about to leave their small hometown. After weeks of rehearsing, the play is suddenly cancelled.
Ice Cream and the sound of Raindrops’s narrative brings, as is obvious from the very beginning of the movie, a narrative within a narrative, i.e. the story staged through the rehearsals is framed within the narrative – a narrative centering Kokoro Morita – surrounding these rehearsals. One can say that both narratives, the one fictionalized, the other fictionalized ‘reality’, focus on Kokoro’s struggle through adolescence.
And while Ice Cream and the sound of Raindrops at first seems a rather mundane but nevertheless intimate affair, Daigo Matsui turns it into something truly monumental. Through the intermingling of both narrative planes, the multitude of layers, and the moments of musical slam-poetry by Moroha translating the unspoken emotions these youths have metaphorically, Ice Cream and the sound of Raindrops becomes a piercing piece stirring one’s deepest emotions surrounding our own personal complex process of growing-up. It touches upon mental emptiness, sense of belonging, having dreams, confrontation with disappointments, relational problems, aggressive fantasies, sexuality, … and feeling powerless. Mister Matsui, you are talented.
The cinematography of Ice Cream and the sound of Raindrops is simple, but extra-ordinary at the same time. By resorting the hand-held camera technique and by framing the narrative in one single shot, Matsui is able to subtle give the narrative space a documentary-like reality – seemingly documenting parts of the rehearsal. Furthermore, the free-floating fluidity that results from the one-shot approach subtly emphasizes the narrative space. As the filmic time, 74 minutes, is not equal to the time of the narrative, one month, the spatial context, i.e. the subtle changes in the narrative space, indicates the passing of the time.
What is even more remarkable, is that Daigo Matsui is able to echo the focal goal of the play – to present the actors as living – in the very framing of the encapsulating narrative. In other words, the documentary-styled cinematography evokes the presence of the ‘actors’ in the narrative space as ‘living’ or as ‘real’. This fictionalized de-fictionalisation of the characters is further underlined by letting the actors act under their own name.
Ice Cream and the sound of Raindrops is 100 percent authentic. At no point in the one-shot that is the narrative the documentary-like immersion is broken. The naturalistic insight we’re given in the honest and heartfelt interactions between adolescents, points to high level of acting the actors display. And while each performance is great in its own right, no one would deny that Kokoro Morita’s captivating performance is the most impressive.
Ice Cream and the sound of Raindrops is a truly remarkable narrative, monumental in its intimacy. By exploring the sheer complexity of growing up in modern society, Daigo Matsui is able to let the contemporary pessimism about the future we, ourselves, have to shape our lives in reverberate in an extremely piercing way. For us, Ice Cream and the sound of Raindrops is Daigo Matsui’s best work yet. And it might even be the best movie of 2018.