The Long Excuse is a Japanese film directed by Miwa Nishikawa. Filmed in 2016, I saw it as part of a Japanese film festival at the Phoenix Cinema in Leicester. I was invited along by an ex-colleague who shares my interest in anime and Japanese authors – perhaps more so as he is currently learning the language.
The film is a drama with some light-hearted moments which explores different attitudes towards grief. Sachio (Masahiro Motoki) is an arrogant writer who turned his back on his country roots as he became somewhat of a celebrity in his home country. He is married to successful hairdresser Natsuko (Eri Fukatsu) and the opening scene establishes that they are growing apart. Indeed, while she goes off on a mountain trip with her friend Yuki he arranges for his mistress to visit him. While he is having sex, the coach his wife is aboard skids on ice and crashes into a lake. She and most of the other passengers are killed.
Sachio appears to feel none of the usual feelings over his wife’s death, unlike Yuki’s lorry-driver husband Yoichi Omiya who is distraught and prone to bouts of crying. Yuki leaves behind a young son and a younger daughter who Yoichi is struggling to bring up on his own. Sachio, perhaps fuelled by the idea of writing a book about his experiences, contacts Yoichi and agrees to help him out – looking after the kids while Yoichi goes on driving jobs.
There’s some great scenes of interaction between adult and the children, and it appears that Sachio is working out his guilt by helping out the family. He appears to regret not having children of his own and enjoys his time with them, but still comes across as an emotional retard when asked to take part in a documentary about the coach crash.
The film follows a pretty standard Hollywood arc and so as we neared the end of Act 2 it was no surprise that Yoichi and his daughter’s teacher (a rather two-dimensional Japanese architype – shy, glasses, speech impediment – you get the picture) are getting along very well and Sachio’s role is redundant in the family unit. He has a big falling out with them and goes back to his old life to struggle with his gradually emerging grief.
However, it’s also no surprise that the two men are forced back together by circumstance – in this case another road traffic accident involving Yoichi – who after having a falling out with his son (who is coping with his mother’s death in his own way) ignores signs of tiredness and ends up falling asleep at the wheel of his truck. Sachio rides in to save the day – leaving the daughter with some people the teacher knows and then taking the son to see his injured dad. Why the teacher couldn’t have helped out is a bit of a mystery.
Sachio subsequently writes his new book ‘The Long Excuse’ about his experiences with the family and while he is still pictured as a lonely soul at the end of the film it’s assumed he has found some closure and won’t be puking and crying in any more nightclub toilets any time soon.
Despite my not feeling any empathy for the main character, it was a thoughtful and touching film. There were some great scenes with the kids and in general the acting was good. I always enjoy the opportunity to take a look at everyday life in Japan and it’s a pity that I didn’t get the chance to see any more of the Japanese films the Phoenix were showing.