Dante once wrote “Places that are empty of you… are empty of all life” as an expression of the void created by the absence or loss of a loved one. It is this obtusely tragic sentiment which is explored by Isao Yukisada’s seventh feature film Crying Out Love, In The Centre Of The World. How does one deal with the loss of a loved one? Do we face it head on or do we turn our back to it; and do those memories linger constantly in our lives or do they become buried, perhaps one day to be remembered when sifting through old boxes and photographs?
The film’s premise and rather soppy titling does conjure images of mushiness and glib melodrama, but it ultimately reveals itself to be a very skillfully metered and sincere romantic drama. The narrative of the film begins by centering on Ritsuko, who mysteriously decides to leave her house and go on a “trip”, but then shifts its focus permanently to her fiancé, Sakutaro, and his quest to find her and the reason why she left. He then follows her trail — a trail full of questions and many many audio tapes. Once this background has been established, the story then splits into two separate timelines; that of the present day and that of a remembered 1986. The film then employs a concept common to Asian romance films — that of a divisional barrier across which love must survive (as seen in such films as Il Mare, Ditto and Bungee Jumping Of Their Own). However, this film utilises it in a more esoteric and clever form by connecting the two lovers again through the use of audio tapes and an approaching typhoon.
Yukisada has every opportunity to pump those cellos and let the tears flow, but proves he is better than that, and allows the sentiment to delicately hover unspoken for the audience to respond to in their own way. Yes, there are strings and tinkling ivories on occasion but there is a calculated restraint and genuineness running throughout the film, particularly in the first half. Yukisada’s direction is exceptional with unobtrusive handheld camerawork and a particularly skillful long-take-turned-tracking-shot that is quite powerful. His experience as an Assistant Director for Shunji Iwai shines almost transparently through this production with its use of “diffused light” in its cinematography and the occasional touches of piano scoring. Based on these common creative elements alone I would recommend this film to fans of Iwai.
The cast is quite exceptional. Takao Osama, who has appeared in some Iwai films and is one of Japan’s more versatile actors, pulls off a memorable and sincere performance as the “present day” Sakutaro. Despite this, he is still dwarfed by the heartfelt acting of both of the main actors in the “1986” story, who really make the film a true gem.
Unfortunately, the film begins to falter slightly about three-quarters of the way in. A third element is introduced to the story with a minor twist that comes across feeling a little contrived and the ending felt as if it was dealt with a little carelessly. Apparently both of these elements are extraneous to the original novel and were perhaps not a wise addition to the film.
While the film runs quite liberally over the two hour mark, the pace never falters and never feels too long. There is plenty of story to tell and it’s told from the heart. Just remember to keep some tissues handy.