JFF Encore Review - Always Sunset on Third Street

CGI extravaganzas are usually reserved for the likes of Michael Bay but this film, based on a long-running manga series of the same name, uses CGI to create nostalgia, not explosions. Always Sunset on Third Street (ALWAYS 三丁目の夕日) by director Takashi Yamazaki takes place not long after World War II over the course of one year while Tokyo Tower is being built. During the course of the film we meet seemingly disparate members of the local Tokyo community and following them through a series of life events.

Released years ago on DVD by Madman, Always Sunset on Third Street is all but impossible to find locally. Thankfully, you'll be able to see it on the big screen in all of its honey-soaked glory.

The real strength of this film is the characterisation of not only the main protagonists, but also secondary characters and Tokyo itself. The reason that these characters work so well is because they're all inherently flawed, as we all are. Their foibles to only highlight their humanity but also allow them to play off against one another. The jock against the geek, the meek against the jock and so on. While the nostalgic element is certainly a positive factor, some of that nostalgia may be lost on folks such as myself who have no familial links to Japan. That said, the heartwarming allure of a simpler time is wonderfully realised.

Of course, wonderful characters deserve wonderful actors to bring them to life and the cast in this film is top shelf. Shinichi Tsutsumi portrays the mechanic, a big, brash man who was undoubtedly a highschool heart-throb. He and his wife, hilariously played by Hiroko Yakushima, are parents to the cheeky Kazuki Koshimizu and owners of Suzuki Auto Repair. Being such a big, strong, successful suburbanite man seems to be at odds with Maki Horikita who plays the role of his country bumpkin apprentice. These characters play off against each other to great effect, as does the other core group in the story. This second group contains a geeky writer played by Hidetaka Yoshioka, his local bartender played by Koyuki and rounded off by the wonderfully sweet Kenta Suga. One thing that stands out is how each and every one of these actors and their respective characters are filled with equal amounts of heart, soul, humour and nostalgia.

Visually, this film is stunning. The use of CGI, while heavy handed in terms of the sheer volume that's used, manages to create a vision of Tokyo that differs so much from what we've grown used to. At times the CGI looks a little plasticky but for the most part blends beautifully into the background. CGI recreations of ye olde Tokyo are coupled with physical sets of alleyways and businesses all set in the shadow of Tokyo Tower, a pinnacle in the rebuilding of post-war Japan. The colour palette varies between muted grey tones which seem to denote the pending industrialisation of Japan while amber, honey notes highlight the warmth of those halcyon days.

This is, without a doubt, one of the choice cuts of this years Japanese Film Festival: Encore. Filled with interesting and loveable characters, nostalgia and fantastic effects, it's easy to see why Always not only collected a whole bunch of film awards but also why it spawned a handful of sequels.

- Ryan
Always Sunset on Third Street is screening on Sunday the 13th of July and tickets are available now!

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