FESTIVAL OF NEW JAPANESE FILM: ASLEEP (SHIRAKAWAYOFUNE) (Shingo Wakagi, 2015)
333 East 47th St. at First Ave.
Thursday, July 16, $13, 6:30
Series runs July 9-19
Shingo Wakagi’s Asleep is a quiet gem of a film, a poignant drama about three women’s relationship with beds and sleep. Sakura Ando stars as Terako, a young woman who is sleeping most of her life away. The only time she wakes up and gets out of bed is when her married lover, the somewhat older Mr. Iwanaga (Arata Iura), calls her to make a date. Terako’s best friend and former roommate, Shiori (Mitsuki Tanimura), recently committed suicide shortly after complaining about the difficulties of her job as a soineya, providing companionship — but not sex — by lying in bed with strangers who do not want to sleep alone. And Terako soon discovers that Iwanaga’s wife is languishing in a hospital bed in a deep coma. As Terako cares more and more for Iwanaga, she finds it harder and harder to get out from under the covers, trying to hide from a life surrounded by loneliness and death.
Ando (Love Exposure) and Iura (After Life, Air Doll), who played rival siblings in Yang Yong-hi’s Our Homeland, have an offbeat yet sweet chemistry as lovers in Asleep, each in need of different forms of physical and psychological comfort. Wakagi (Waltz in Starlight, Totemu: Song for Home) cowrote, directed, and photographed the film, based on Banana Yoshimoto’s 1989 novella, and he gives it a literary quality with soft voice-over narration by Ando as the troubled Terako, who is first shown lying flat on her back on her futon, in black-and-white, as if she’s dead. “If someone could guarantee that this is really love, I’d be so relieved I’d kneel at her feet,” she says after receiving a phone call from Iwanaga, continuing, “And if it isn’t love, don’t let me hear when he calls,” hiding under the sheets and plowing her head deeper into her pillow. Asleep is an intimate tale, playing out almost like a confessional as a young woman deals with love and depression, nearly paralyzed by a fear of taking control of her life. Wakagi includes little dialogue and no musical score, only the natural sounds of the city and the deafening silence of the bedroom, broken only by the buzzing of the telephone offering her an opportunity that both excites and frightens her. Asleep is part of the Centerpiece Presentation of Japan Society’s annual Japan Cuts Festival of New Japanese Film, screening July 16 at 6:30, with Ando on hand to introduce the film and participate in a Q&A afterward. The festival runs through July 19 with such other works as co-Centerpiece Presentation 100 Yen Love, also starring Ando; The Voice of Water, with an intro by and Q&A with director Masashi Yamamoto and special guests Yui Takagi and Shigetaka Komatsu; and This Country’s Sky, with director Haruhiko Arai and star Youki Kudoh at Japan Society to talk about the film.