As Michihito Fujii is young and his oeuvre somewhat limited, it might come as a surprise that he was already given the opportunity to direct two somewhat larger projects, like The Journalist (2019) and Day and Night (2019), in one and the same year. While this might point to a trust in his talent, it might also mean that he is a willing victim for the way the Japanese movie industry works.
When Koji Akashi (Shinnosuke Abe) returns to his family-home, it is not for a happy event. His father (Hiroyuki Watanabe), owner of Akashi motors, has died. Yoko (Reina Ikehata), Koji’s sister, immediately underlines at dinner the importance of selling the business, a business who went bankrupts by a damaging recall-case.
One night, Koji visits his father’s deserted car repair and service business. On site, he meets Kenichi Kitamura (Masanobu Ando), who came to pay his respects on the grounds of the company. When Kitamura launches in his angry complaints – the one who did right killed himself, those that did wrong are still alive, Soji can only listen dumbfounded.
The next day, Yohei Miyake (Tetsushi Tanaka) from Nakamachi Motors comes to offer his deepest condolences, but is chased away by Koji’s mother (Shigeru Muroi), yelling that it’s him who killed her husband. Miyake replies rather coolly, that Akashi ruined the lives of many people and that his false accusations damaged his company. Due to this event, Koji decides to to sort this case out and starts investigating.
Day and Night has a very thoughtful and well-structured narrative structure. The narrative unfolds in such a way that our grasp on the context of Koji’s father’s death tightens naturally, while, at the same time, underlining the elements that remain vague. The careful underlining of this vagueness does not fail to feed the mystery for the spectator, a mystery successfully engaging that spectator in following the thread of the narrative.
This fine structure of a mystery yet to be resolved puts the spectator in a similar position of Koji – both not having any grasp on the ‘truth’ of the father’s suicide and both wanting to know the truth. Furthermore, the elements – those elements structuring the narrative’s unfolding – that Koji uses to orient his search for ‘truth’ are the very same elements that orient the spectator’s wish to know the truth. One could even add that the framed emotions of Koji are in line with the spectator’s emotional impressions. What’s also great about the narrative’s structure is that it leaves the spectator guessing about which direction the narrative will take or directions that leave the spectator dumbfounded – there are indeed some unforeseen and surprising narrative bends in the narrative. These various turns make sure that the narrative, even after most vague elements are clarified, remains an engaging ride.
While at first glance Day And Night, a narrative dealing with the aftermath of a whistleblowing and the suicide it resulted in, only concerns the search for the truth of the recall cover-up – a truth that will decide if Koji’s father, the whistleblower, was right or wrong, there are also various another interrelated dimension that insist in the narrative. The first dimension concerns the dimension of the disruption. Beyond any truth or lie, the position of the whistleblower is seen as one that disrupt the lives of many. Because of that, because of the equilibrium people want to maintain, one feels that, within society, is the whistleblower as driven by a sense of justice that is positioned as problematic (Narra-note 1).
Another dimension that Day and Night touches upon is the tension between justice and the law. This dimension is first of all evoked through the character of Kitamura, who funds his daytime orphanage by indulging in nighttime car-thievery and other illegal activities – the title of the narrative finding its origin here (Narra-note 2). Due to the outstanding debt the Akashi family has due to the incident, Kitamura succeeds in getting Koji to work for him at day, as chef at his orphanage, as well as at night, as helper in his illegal activities. Eventually, due to his growing expertise in illegal ways, Koji eventually takes the night-time road of revenge against Miyake and Nakamachi Motors (Narra-note 3, Narra-note 4). Koji’s path of revenge reveals that he does not question the truth anymore. As a matter of fact, it is only by believing that his father was correct that he is able to tread this path of revenge, a dark path that quickly supports his search to prove his father was right in broad day light.
The ending of the narrative is where the drama comes to full bloom – the drama as function of the tension between justice and law, between what’s right and what’s wrong. Without revealing too much about the narrative’s end, Day and Night’s conclusion is nothing other than a painful but rather realistic portrait of how power triumphs justice or, put more correctly, how power is able to generate justice and how, in some cases, right or wrong depends on the logic of the numbers (Narra-note 5 (spoiler), narra-note 6).
Within the setting of the orphanage, subtle thematical excursions are made to the question of love, how love relates to family, and what constitutes a family. Besides touching upon the difficulty to grasp these concepts and underlining the impact of abandonment of biological parents, the dimension of truth is also present here. But truth here concerns a parental truth, a truth generally covered up by a hopeful wish, and the effects the revelation of such truth can have on the subject.
Day and Night’s cinematography thrives on movement. Be it by composing with shaky (framing) movement or with composed fluid spatial/following movement, the narrative’s filmic composition almost never comes to a halt. Nevertheless, some moments of fixity are present in the cinematography, but these moments are, within the moving shot, generally reduced to mere passing moments – very subtle moments of pause either at the beginning or at the end of a shot. Real fixity nevertheless does enter the framing of interiors and speech-interactions, but these moments of true fixity are rather limited (Cine-note 1).
The cinematographical movement – the ‘naturally’ fluid as well as ‘realistically’ shaky movement, has no other effect than support a feeling of realism, a feeling supporting the unfolding of the narrative. At certain points – especially at tensive points, the narrative’s framing turns into a cinematography closely resembling a documentary-like framing. The amazing colour-design might be subtle at times, but it is only through its very subtlety that the blend of colours present in the narrative spaces is able to attains such a pleasing quality.
Day and Night also benefits from a very subtle musical accompaniment. This accompaniment infuses, at given times, a minimal level of tension into the narrative space. There are also some rare moments where the musical accompaniment becomes less subtle. In one such moment, the music enables the tension, also supported by a more frantic shakiness, to become more palpable. One other time, a musical piece comes to dictate the framing, dictating the cuts, the cuts from day to night, by the musical piece’s drums. This narrative piece, as supported by the drum-rich music, is truly enjoyable as it succeeds in highlighting the temporal dimension of the radical difference between day and night that Koji inscribed himself (Narra-note 7). Within this piece, this radical difference is also beautifully highlighted by visually equating both sides (Cine-note 2).
The acting in Day and Night is of a very high quality. Shigeru Muroi, who plays Koji’s mother, is able to bring the grief in a heartfelt way to the fore. Shinnosuke Abe, for that matter, sensibly communicates his helplessness in confrontation with the ways of power. And, last but not least, Kaya Kiyohara, who plays Nana, charms and impresses with her emotionally layered performance.
Michihito Fujii, with his talent, has turned Day and Night into an impressive narrative. While this impressiveness of course finds its foundation in the very pleasing framing of the narrative spaces, the colour-design, and the highly effective musical accompaniment, its true impressiveness lies in the touching and slightly devastating way in which it reveals the perverting effect power has on justice. While Day And Night is not an easy watch – an uneasiness born from our sense of justice, it still is one of the most effective drama narratives of this year.
Narra-note 1: In other words, as long as the equilibrium is maintained, truth or lie are both acceptable. People are thus most concerned with equilibrium, instead of the ‘unknown’ truth that underpins this equilibrium.
Narra-note 2: There is also more narrative concerning Kitamura present in the narrative – a narrative side concerning the murder of his wife and his murder of the murderer.
Narra-note 3: To be entirely correct, we should say that Koji stopped investigating his father’s suicide, before he turned to more illegal ways of revenge.
Narra-note 4: Let us also note that the night reveals certain elements that enable Koji to further uncover the ‘truth’ of this father’s suicide.
Narra-note 5: While the revenge leads to violence/murder (in broad day light), the narrative also underlines that this wild justice, a justice against the law, is not able to change society. Society function as a power structure and as long as the power structure remains unchanged power (be it financial or structural) remains to influence justice.
Narra-note 6: Revenge actually means the realization of the ability to re-put his father, within the societal eye, on his righteous place – the place of moral righteousness. Hated by the community or not, equilibrium of the community broken or not, Koji’s uncovering of the truth aims to corroborate, for the societal eye, his father’s righteousness.
Cine-note 1: In the case of speech-interactions, the fixity is sometimes marked by a subtle shakiness.
Narra-note 7: While Nana (Kaya Kiyohara) was already introduced earlier in the narrative, the presence of her within this narrative piece – Nana drawing a picture for Koji – underlines her importance for the narrative, a presence forbearing the role her narrative – a narrative concerning her seemingly impossible to realize wish to go to art college – will play in Koji’s personal journey.
Cine-Note 2: The peeling of the onion is visually equated with holding money in one’s hand. The dance of the children is visually equated with the dancing of the women at the night-club. It is the equation as such that highlight the difference.