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First Look Review - THEY SAY NOTHING STAYS THE SAME

They Say Nothing Stays the Same review
An aging ferryman saves a mysterious young woman from drowning.

Review by Benjamin Poole

Directed by: Joe Odagari

Starring: Akira Emoto, Ririka Kawashima, Nijiro Murakami, Tsuyoshi Ihara, Jun Marakami, Yu Aoi

They Say Nothing Stays the Same poster

Researching Joe Odagiri, writer/director of the superlative Meiji era set They Say Nothing Stays the Same, I was rendered nonplussed as I scrolled down past acting credit after acting credit (an all-inclusive thespian CV of Japanese film and telly) until, finally, uncovering a few behind the camera credits at the bottom of the imdb page. There’s a de rigueur short, an extended mini, and then, like a hard-won lifelong impression at the end of the tabi, They Say Nothing Stays the Same, Odagiri’s full length auteurial debut. Locating this information after watching They Say Nothing Stays the Same, is startling for several reasons. Firstly, the film itself, which focuses on a ferryman who is soon to be rendered purposeless following the construction of a bridge, is an extremely accomplished debut, the sort of deeply felt and obstinately ponderous movie which seems to rarely be the initial choice for an actor turned director. Moreover, for a film made by someone with 96 acting credits, They Say Nothing Stays the Same is decisively a film where performance is secondary; the actors simply providing functional threads which serve to weave the abiding transcendental experience of mood, vision and hypnotic imagery together.

They Say Nothing Stays the Same review

Odagiri sets his film in the breath-taking location of river bend (pinpointing this shooting location has proved fruitless - which is probably for the best as I may well have upped sticks to live there myself). His peasant protagonist Toichi (Akira Emoto) transports people, livestock and other cargo across the water, and lives in a shack near the shore. Toichi is entwined with his surroundings, the deep tributary which flows unhindered and will continue to swell and surge when Toichi, and the rest of us, are long gone; as a character admonishes, "useless things disappear." Hence, there is noise around the corner from a bridge being built, an inevitable result of progress in turn of the century Japan.


Toichi, though, is more concerned with the presence of a girl (Ririka Kawashima), whom he rescued from the river following a mystery altercation: the girl is half drowned, has cuts and bruises but no memory of who she is. Sheltering, kind Toichi treats her with quiet wonder, and patience, demonstrating the very qualities which are necessary to experiencing the narrative which ensues (which, yes, meanders majestically like that very river).

They Say Nothing Stays the Same review

Plot does not punt this ship, however. "Quiet, but very humane," Toichi is an unconcealed metaphor, a weather worn device for exploring the film’s abstract themes of time, mortality and fear. The Stygian connotations of this ferryman’s situation are consolidated by the ethereal presence of the girl, who, unnamed, refers to all that is new and youthful and dangerous: a liminal figure that, had she not been saved by Toichi, perhaps would have perished according to the cosmic ordering of the natural universe. This latter phenomena, the film’s true subject, is abundantly evident in the gorgeous, capacious framework of DP Christopher Doyle. Each verdant frame has the prized value of uncut jade, with characters overwhelmed by the fecund and potentially supernatural power of their surroundings.

They Say Nothing Stays the Same review

What prevents They Say Nothing Stays the Same from absolute perfection is the final reel, wherein this gorgeous green ghost story, which, in the true tradition of the YĆ«rei form, has previously trafficked in intense emotion and unsettling awe, transposes a hurried storyline onto its sublime and sensational spectacles. Is the violence and jeopardy of the final act a misjudged level of further meaning, that everything must pass, even the spooky calm of this rural tenure? Or is it simply a necessary way of ending a film which could, with its elemental power and infinite beauty, have otherwise flowed on forever? In the grand vista of They Say Nothing Stays the Same (and it is grand) such a quibble seems churlish. Let its currents pull you away.

They Say Nothing Stays the Same is in US cinemas and VOD from November 12th. A UK/ROI release has yet to be announced.



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