On Christmas Eve, NORAD tracks Santa across the globe but also watches a rogue satellite falling out of orbit towards Tokyo. Causing a failure of the electrical system, twelve people face up to life in the dark and to a night that, as it turns slowly into Christmas, will see love blossom, truths revealed and a drive through the deserted city streets on a pushbike, all to watch the stars…
Sometimes the bright lights of the city blind us to what really matters. In Daiteiden no Yoru ni (Until the Lights Come Back), director Takashi Minamoto reveals six stories about what might happen should those lights fail, when, without the soundtrack of urban life nor the streetlights that shut out the sky, twelve people look into the darkness and into the truth about themselves.
Set in the few hours before Christmas, NORAD announce their annual tracking of Santa Claus as Rudolph leads the reindeer through the snowy skies, his nose giving their satellites a strong, clear signal. But something else is picked up, a rogue satellite falling out of orbit towards Tokyo. There, watching it through his telescope is a 14-year-old boy, Shota (Kanata Hongo), whose attention is stolen by the sight of a beautiful woman clambering over the roof of a nearby hospital and gazing over the edge of the building down to the busy streets below. Seeing that she’s distraught, Shota jumps across the rooftops to introduce himself to the girl, Maiko (Yu Kashii), who, with the lights out around Tokyo, he asks to go see something that she’ll never see again.
Getting on his bike, they have an unforgettable night that, as Maiko tells Shota the reason for her stay in hospital, is tinged with sadness. But this Christmas Eve is a night that others will not forget either and that, before Christmas morning, will see heartbreak beneath the starlight that Shota is seeing anew…
Some years ago, the BBC ran two seasons of a television show called Bedtime, each of which ran for four episodes, the first on a Monday night and the last on a Thursday. As per the title, the show was set at bedtime and as three couples or families in the same street settled into their beds, they would talk about the day’s events, which, as the week passed, they would pass in and out of, all the while leading to a coming together of the stories. The day’s events would pass offscreen but the conversations that occurred as the cast undressed, brushed their teeth or read a book slowly revealed a story that showed how their lives crisscrossed those of their neighbours. Just as impressive, though, was the silence of Bedtime, marking those moments when, in the darkness, sleep begins to catch up with his and we becomes quieter and more introspective, as the moments out eyes close become one where we can think back on the day and remember its better moments.
Daiteiden no Yoru ni is not about those hours near bedtime as much as, by a different means, the stripping away of the things we hide behind. As a falling satellite hits a power station in Tokyo, the surge of electricity knocks out power throughout the city and street by street, the lights go out. Cars are, of course, still on the road but subway trains roll to a stop, lifts brake abruptly and shops, clubs and bars, if they remain open at all, do so by candlelight. It is in the small space between two such buildings that candle-shop owner Nozomi (Tomoko Tabata) gazes across the alley and into the bar owned by Shinichi (Etsushi Toyogawa), who, this Christmas Eve, posts a note on his door saying that he is closing down. Disappointed in love, Shinichi has decided to move to New York but the adoring Nozomi will, in her own quiet way, see about making him stay if that’s for the best. Elsewhere, Saeki (Tomorowo Taguchi) is visiting his dying father in hospital when he is told that not only was he born out of wedlock but that the mother he always assumed dead is alive and living in Tokyo. All that his father asks of Saeki is for him to contact his mother so that he can see her one last time before he passes away, something that he is sure will happen in the coming days.
As Saeki leaves the hospital, he leaves behind him, as well as walks into, an emotional storm as unpredictable as the clouds that are gathering over Tokyo. Back at home, his wife (Tomoyo Harada) waits in their flat for him to return so that she can serve him with divorce papers while in a downtown hotel, he tells his mistress, Misuzu (Haruka Igawa), that their affair must end but she refuses, unable to believe that Saeki is choosing to remain with his wife than leave with her. Even when Saeki contacts his mother and asks her to visit his father, he leaves a woman distraught at the past coming back to haunt her, as well as a husband unprepared for the news. As one leaves their home in search of a fast car to steal, the other sits in the near-darkness asking herself what it is that she wants – to remain true to her husband or to a dear old love who’s now in need of her?
The very best story of the night – that of Ginji (Koji Kikkawa) and Reiko (Shinobu Terajima) – is not even one that I’ll say much about, as any description of it would spoil its delicate surprises and its heartbreakingly sad story of love and redemption. You will, as it concludes, be shedding tears as Daiteiden no Yoru ni ends and Ginji brings Christmas to Tokyo, his steps lost in the first snowfall of Christmas. In any other film, the manner in which these stories overlap would be celebrated but in Daiteiden no Yoru ni, they are slightly underplayed. Rather than making these coincidences the focus of the film, they are played out as entirely accidental, making them all the more welcome when they occur. What Daiteiden no Yoru ni does make much more of are the very small moments in a night when the lights go out. Nozomi calls on Shinichi, taking with her a box of candles that she cannot sell but which, together, they use to light his bar. How Daiteiden no Yoru ni captures the joy on Nozomi’s face as she lights the last candle is one remarkable moment in a film that has so very many of them.
In an equal number of ways, this is the film that I’ve been waiting years for – a beautiful seasonal treat that realises the joys of Christmas are in love, friendship and a snowfall in the darkness, lit only by candlelight. Heartfelt, subtle and played so very quietly, Daiteiden no Yoru ni is a quite remarkable film and the two hours that one spends in its night before Christmas is one will linger long in the mind as the credits roll. It’s a film that appeals to the very best in us and flatters its audience that, on a night such as the one portrayed, we would go out into the city and experience life as the twelve characters do here, not as one to hide from but to live as though each moment matters.
Daiteiden no Yoru ni is a beautifully-made film and its transfer onto film is no less impressive. This is a stunning disc with a lovely transfer that’s detailed enough to pick out the small points of light in the night sky but just soft enough to give the film a slight otherworldly glow. The disc’s treatment of colour and of blacks is quite exceptional and via a direct digital connection such as HDMI, this looks wonderful with what little light there is given emphasis by the darkness of the image.
The Dolby Digital 5.1 audio track is the equal of the picture with the score, a crossing of jazz and seasonal instrumentals, sounding terrific – clear, warm and with an obvious grasp of the delicacy of the playing. The scene late in the film when Shinichi plays his acoustic bass is marvellous, with the disc not only handling the low frequencies of the instrument but being detailed enough to pick out the movement of his fingers on the strings.
There is a Commentary in this two-disc set but it is in Japanese and is not subtitled. Disc One also contains three Trailers (44s, 1m12s, 2m10s) and a TV Spot (17s). The second disc begins with three Movie Reports (10m36s), which, as well as summarising the various stories in the film, also feature interviews with the cast in brief glimpses that, one assumes, were broadcast on television prior to Daiteiden no Yoru ni‘s theatrical release. This is followed by a Behind-The-Scenes feature (9m32s), which follows a similar template, intercutting footage of the production with yet more interviews with the cast and short summaries of the six stories in the film. After that, there are twelve Monologues (45m33s) delivered in character over a series of still images, each of which last 3m48s, give or take a second or two. Finally, the last option on the main menu directs the viewer to footage from five Film Festivals (50m03s) taken between December 2004-2005.
Unfortunately, all of these bonus features are in Japanese without English subtitles but there are still moments that work even if one doesn’t understand what is being said. Press conferences in Japan are clearly different from those in the UK as that footage ends with two actors singing on stage while the Monologues, though containing nothing in English, are actually somewhat interesting to listen to.
Perhaps it’s due to the success of DVD but the terrestrial television schedules don’t quite satisfy when what one really wants is a seasonal treat. Come Easter, it’s to satellite channels that one must turn to in search of Jesus of Nazereth or The Robe whilst Hallowe’en evening, which ought to be full of old Hammer and Universal films, are entirely absent of such treats. Christmas usually fares a little better but for seasonal pleasures as It’s A Wonderful Life, A Box of Delights, White Christmas and Olive, The Other Reindeer, DVD is a godsend.
And so it will prove this Christmas when Daiteiden no Yoru ni will be watched once again. Slightly out of place in June, this will be a most welcome film come Christmas Eve when its clear sense of the season’s first snow will feel as right as the sound of sleigh bells and the crackle of a fire. Unfortunately, there isn’t a great deal to get out of the bonus features for anyone without a grasp of Japanese but when the film is of such a quality as this one, that’s not something that really matters. Come December, it will be something of a treat to watch this. All the better if, like Daiteiden no Yoru ni, the snow is falling outside.
It’s the end, but the moment has been prepared for…
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