by Jason Suzuki
There is an element of the unspoken to a film. If a work of art resonates there is an ineffable quality to it. Same with another person, they can be boiled down but at times something hidden is hinted at which can't be known. Words could describe Hikari, but there's something so affecting about it and its profundities that make boiling it down a sin.
Misako (Ayame Misaki) is sort of like a modern day benshi equivalent but her dilemma of translation is not from foreign to domestic but concrete visuals to aural descriptions. Unlike the performers of the silent era, her work is meant to go unnoticed. In the work of descriptive audio for the visually impaired the audience is there for the film and expect as much of the mood and meaning to be conveyed. She has to fit in as much description of action and setting as she can in between spoken lines, but if there's too much of her the film has no room to breathe.
Her current project is a tender, art-house picture - complete with ambiguous ending shot - by a veteran actor/director played by the legendary Tatsuya Fuji. Misako's superiors gather regularly with a test group of the visually impaired to receive notes on Misako's descriptive narration in preparation for the film's premiere. It's a small group of about five people. There's an outspoken elderly woman who will tell Misako when she's ruined the experience of the picture with her latest draft. The others all have their own notes but succumb too easily to agreeing with others. Masaya (Masatoshi Nagase), a famous photographer who hasn't completely lost his eyesight is the most blunt of the group. He comes at it like an artist, probably the most understanding of how personal Misako takes the criticisms which is why his notes come off as personal.
Misako practices her craft in her private time. Standing on the corners of intersections with high human traffic, she singles out passersby one at a time, describing their look, what they're doing, and maybe some of her own interpretation thrown in. She's chasing something that can't be caught which she never had in the first place. Masaya chases in order to cling on to what he's losing. Point of view inserts tell us he can barely see; a bright blur surrounds a sliver of the world. Kawase makes no attempt to set up convenient run-ins between the two of them. Their private lives and compulsions make it obvious they would gravitate towards each other.
Masaya carries his camera with him when he goes out. He can barely use it and he doesn't actively develop the photos he takes with it. When he gets it back from a colleague who stole it from him he confesses that it's his heart. He can't let go even though he can't use it.
Thanks to French money and sales agents Naomi Kawase has maintained a spot in what critics have deemed the 4K of contemporary Japanese cinema that receives regular festival play (the others being Kitano, Kurosawa, and Kore-eda). Radiance is a return to form for Kawase, a filmmaker most have shrugged off (self included) as an easy constant for festival programmers looking for some Japanese representation in their lineup. Close ups of eyes when people talk refers to the literal focus on the ability to see but this choice asks us to decipher on a more microscopic level than a typical close up would require. The films comes off like a challenge from Kawase to Misako to provide the description to her film, working in much more complex ways visually and narratively than the film within the film. There are just some things that can't be properly conveyed without losing the complexity and multitude of meaning.
The sunset is the father who mysteriously disappeared when Misako was younger. It's also the manifestation of separation anxiety and the need for faith in others. Why chase what can't be caught? It could come to you.