Nostalgia is a wonderful thing. It shows us where we once were and how far we have come since then. Always~ Sunset on Third Street is a film that shows us where Japan once was and how far it has come since. It is a nostalgic trip into the ‘good old days’ of Japan in it’s post-war boom but that isn’t all that Always~ is about. At its very core, Always~ Sunset on Third Street explores the nature of family and the importance of it.
Set beneath the shadow of the Tokyo Tower construction, Always~ follows the inhabitants of the titular Third Street in Tokyo. In particular focus are the Suzuki family with their Suzuki Auto Mobile company and the washed-up writer Chagawa. Through both of these people we see that family bonds can be stronger than blood.
Effortlessly weaving two countering plot-lines, Always~ follows two kids who find family in the most unexpected of places – on Third Street.
The first of which is the relationship that forms between the has-been writer Chagawa and the young orphan Junnosuke. Chagawa is a man who has little to no direction in life and writes short stories for a local magazine called ‘Boys Adventure Tales’, the remuneration is minimal and he barely scrapes along to make ends meet with his dodgy candy store that he has set up outside his modest flat. After some persuasion from the beautiful Hiromi, a drunken Chagawa agrees to take care of the orphan. As the film rolls on we see these two form an unlikely bond, with Chagawa becoming a father to Junnosuke, finding a purpose and direction in his life.
On the other side of Third Street is the Suzuki family who take in a live-in employee for their struggling Auto Mobile company ‘Suzuki Auto’. The young girl named Mutsuko is hired due to a mistake by the Suzuki father who believed she had Auto Repair experience, when in fact she can only do the most basic repairs on a bicycle.
After struggling to find a place in their household, Mutsuko eventually becomes accepted and forms a bond with the Suzuki parents and their son Ippei, becoming somewhat like a daughter to them and learning the trade of Suzuki Auto while she is at it.
The film ventures deep into the notion of makeshift families. While the saying goes that blood is thicker than water, Always~ Sunset on Third Street plays with the idea that there are some things thicker than even blood.
It is an interesting notion to say the very least and through the relationship forged between Chagawa and Junnosuke we see get true emotional catharsis for it. “We are two complete strangers,” he tells Junnosuke throughout the film. Yet somehow they have come to be so much more than that, and you know what? That is beautiful.
Always~ Sunset on Third Street is an emotional journey following a well-realized ensemble cast of eccentric characters. While there are some real tear-jerking moment here, the film never loses hope in the face of true sadness, ultimately resulting in what is one of the most ‘feel good’ films in Japanese cinema history.
The film is beautifully shot with a number of memorable sequences, the most memorable of which is undoubtedly the titular sunset over Third Street which concludes the film. The imagery of the silhouette of Tokyo Tower standing tall as the sunsets is genius. It marks the perfect moment to conclude the film as it reaches its emotional apex with the countless climaxes for each plot line reaching its resolution. That vision of a sunset over Tokyo is one I know I will likely not forget any time soon.
The same can be said for the film’s wonderfully composed soundtrack. Each scene is elevated to great heights with the excellent musical arrangement for the film creating the right atmosphere and tone for the action playing out on screen. The music is so good in fact that it deserves an entire review dedicated to itself alone, but that is something for another day.
Ultimately Always~ Sunset on Third Street proves itself to be one of Japanese cinema’s finest achievements. Exploring the very fabric of the idea of family from very unique perspectives all the while taking viewers on an emotional journey they will carry with them long after they have left the theaters. To say that it is a must-see film is an understatement. Always~ Sunset on Third Street is a modern classic of Japanese cinema that explores the universal theme of family, tearing down all language barriers making for a film that is simply unforgettable.
The film aired as part of the Japanese Film Fest Encore, for more information of the Japanese Film Fest check out the official site here.