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‘The Light Shines Only There’ Review

light-shines-there-1There are dozens of intriguing films on this year’s Japanese Film Festival line-up but none more quietly captivating than The Light Shines Only There, a film that explores the complicated emotional networks that defines a troubled lower-class family and the aimless depressive that becomes entangled within it. The film moves quietly along pondering many questions on the nature of life, love, death, loss, sex, violence and all of the messy stuff that lies between. So what light shines at the end of suffering?

The Light Shines Only There follows Tatsuo, a heavily depressed and unemployed slacker coasting by through life on his savings, slowly widdling it all away at a pachinko parlour. One day while drowning his sorrows in pachinko, Tatsuo meets teen delinquent Takuji, befriending him and ultimately finding himself wrapped up in the struggles affecting Takuji’s family.

Tatsuo strikes up a connection with Takuji’s sister Chinatsu, another depressive who has been broken and beaten down by the world around her. Being forced to sell her body at the local brothel and serve as the mistress to a rich business men, Chinatsu has been stripped of her dignity as a woman and identity as a human being. That is of course until Tatsuo comes into her life. Despite a rocky start, the two form a friendship and eventually become involved sexually. Things becomes deeply complicated from here as Tatsuo contends with Chinatsu’s life as a woman for sale and the man she must have an affair with.


Throughout all of this exploration of a dark side of life, The Light Shines Only There raises some incredibly interesting moral questions on what one must sacrifice for family and love. Chinatsu sacrifices her agency and ultimately her soul in order to keep her troubled brother out of jail and in work all the while looking after her aging parents. The film asks many of questions on these matters yet concludes silently without ever truly pinning down any answers to them. Why do we sacrifice? Why must we sacrifice? The closest thing The Light Shines Only There ever gets to is a rather broad ‘Gee, the World sucks!’ In spite of that, the film does achieve some truly emotionally impactful moments and provides some interesting food for thought on the nature of life and the trials of the lower class all the while ending on a somewhat hopeful note.

The cast are simply superb here, with Gou Ayano proving to be a natural leading man with his tour-de-force performance as Tatsuo. Likewise Chizuru Ikewaki makes for a very sympathetic female lead, showcasing a layered performance that may require multiple viewings to fully grasp the extent of. On top of that the film is beautifully shot on location on the Japanese coast-line. The lighting and framing is superbly crafted, making for some unforgettable sequences. Furthermore, the film’s soundtrack is well composed and gives the action on screen true weight and gravitas. The entire production is impressive to say the least.


The Light Shines Only There is a masterful journey into the dark depths of the depressive state of the oppressed lower-class. The under-lying rage at the core of the film spits out like the magma of a volcano about to erupt, only to conclude quietly before the breaking point, leaving a bright light of hope shining through, at least for the moment. That is what ultimately defines this caste of society, the moments of hope that one day things will be better, the fleeting smiles and fading lights, the spark that lights a flame in the heart of us all. The Light That Shines Only There details all of this vividly never shying away from the gritty side of things. It is certainly not a film for everyone, with its relatively low quota for action and relentlessly slow yet meticulous pace, it is not going to excite the easily distracted – this is a film for the thoughtful.

The Light Shines Only There screened as part of the Japanese Film Festival, for more information visit the official site

Grade: B


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