by Jason Suzuki
Once Kaisha Monogatari: Memories of You, Jun Ichikawa's 2nd feature, is over, a feeling consumed me. This feeling is the same one felt after watching Tony Takitani (2005) for the first time: wanting to see more films from Ichikawa. Unfortunately for English speaking audiences there seems to be few releases abroad that can satisfy. Apart from a few Hong Kong DVDs and some from Japan, the man's work has very few chances of reaching an audience.
The descriptions of Kaisha Monogatari that you will find online sum up the film as a section head (Hajime Hana) who rekindles his love for jazz music to fight off the melancholy of his impending retirement. This description only paints part of the picture and gives no indication of the scope of Ichikawa's film. If you are looking for another film like Swing Girls you might be disappointed as the creation of a jazz band doesn't happen until late in the film, yet jazz is everywhere throughout the story though. Even comparisons to a film like Shall We Dance? another film about a salaryman transcending company life through a form of expression, does not entirely hold up because of the less narrative driven nature of Ichikawa's film.
Ichikawa's lens does not solely focus on Hana; a quiet temp worker played by Yumi Nishiyama, who can be called the film's other main character. Her failed romance with a fellow office worker, a man working his way up in the company and seeing other girls behind her back, provides juxtaposition to Hana, who has spent years at the company with little to show, and approaching retirement. His home life is not given as much time as his company life (hence the title) but the glimpses we see suggest an existence where his job is an escape from a delinquent son and boring private life and jazz is an escape from everything.
Ichikawa's use of montage allows us many tiny moments that create the whole story of this company and the people who work there. We get little glimpses of the stories that surround and sometimes have connection to those of Hana's and Nishiyama's characters. The way these episodes are presented are with quick snippets of information; much more in the film is suggested rather than hitting us over the head. Maybe that's why there is a tinge of sadness to Hana's retirement: that these tiny stories, all inferred from being around his coworkers, he will no longer be audience to. Just as Nishiyama wont be able to watch Hana, who she seems to find genuine and quietly a man deserving of respect, yet a cog invisible to most in the corporation. Their celebration of Hana's birthday, just him and Nishiyama, which was earlier cancelled by Hana so as not to annoy his coworkers, is not played for romance, but a mutual understanding that they notice one another.
The film is currently available on Hulu Plus courtesy of the Criterion Collection. Hopefully this not only means a home video release of the film in the future but also an opportunity for more of Ichikawa's films to come stateside.
Jason Suzuki is co-editor to Cinema Adrift.