Always: Sunset on Third Street was a commercial and critical success in Japan, winning the hearts of Japanese audiences and critics alike. It was a huge box office hit, and went on to become the big winner at the 2006 Awards of the Japanese Academy, sweeping almost all of the major awards, including Best Film, Best Director, Best Actor, Best Support Actor and Best Support Actress. In fact, had it won any more awards from the Japanese Academy, it would have been the only award winner for that year. And it is not hard to see why Always: Sunset on Third Street achieved so much success. The film is both a genuine crowd pleaser and an accomplished piece of cinema.
It was Tokyo in 1958. On Third Street lived Norifumi Suzuki, the owner of a car shop, his wife and young son Ippei. A young girl went to Tokyo to work at Suzuki’s shop. After overcoming her initial disappointment with the small size of the shop, she quickly became an apprentice, and an integral part of the Suzuki family. On the opposite side of the street lived Chagawa, a writer who was running a candy store while waiting for his writing ability to be finally recognised. He came to look after a young boy Junnosuke, a complete stranger who, as Chagawa soon discovered, was a talented young storyteller…
The technical aspects of the film are flawless. Visually, it is splendid. Tokyo of the 1950s is wonderfully and realistically recreated using computer graphics. The shops, the trams, and the Tokyo Tower that was in the middle of being built, all add to the feeling of nostalgia. The film serves as a great example of how CGI could be used to help tell a story, rather than to create lifeless spectacles. One scene deserving special mention is where a few kids were reading Junnosuke’s story and were apparently transported to the imaginary city vividly described in his writing. That was a truly magical moment, as audiences immediately realise what a good writer the young boy was. The sound of the film is also of very high quality. The music score is simply beautiful, and really works well in many of the scenes, helping to pull on the audience’s heartstrings.
While the film excels technically, its real success lies in the creation of really likeable characters, such as Chagawa the down and out writer fondly known by the locals as ‘Mr Literature’, Suzuki the president of the ‘automobile company’, and the doctor known amongst the kids as ‘the Devil’. All the performances are wonderfully believable, with the stellar ensemble cast bringing all the characters to life. The outstanding performance by Hidetaka Yoshioka, who played Chagawa the writer, is both funny and touching, and is my personal favourite. I am also deeply impressed by the two child actors who played Junnosuke and Ippei, as they both gave natural performances that portrayed the innocence and joys of childhood.
At times, Always: Sunset on Third Street feels a little over-sentimental, but those willing to open their hearts, even just for a brief time, will no doubt be touched by this beautiful film. Described was a time when life was simple; when the television, refrigerator and washing machine were valued as ‘sacred treasures’, and when people were kind and cared about their neighbours. It would be difficult to know if the world was actually like that in the old days, but if ‘Third Street’ were really like what was portrayed in the film, I wouldn’t mind moving there myself.