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Before the Sunset (2023)

Kazunori (Masane Tsukayama) is well regarded in the business world, known to many as the “God of Management.” However, now his career is over and he’s found himself alone in a nursing home–a place where all he has is time to sit and think about the decisions he’s made throughout his life. Before the Sunset sees Kazunori transported back in time and given an unprecedented opportunity to make things better than before, to right his wrongs, and to find inner peace.

I don’t mean this distastefully at all, but Before the Sunset feels like a typical Japanese film. A remarkably simple story has been taken and provided the opportunity to become spiritual as a way to strengthen its narrative and appeal to viewers. It contains stereotypical male and female characters, and those characters manage to perpetuate something of a silly cycle of gender-related beliefs. Men are loud, women are reserved, and the list of things goes on and on. While it seems that Before the Sunset plays it safe in this regard, that it simply leans into the typical in a lot of ways, I think it does something just different enough that will effectively appeal to viewers. It uses aspects of everyday life to reach viewers, to remind them that even though this film dives into science-fiction, or it tends to perpetuate some stereotypes, it understands its audience.

The most obvious example of this is the fact that young Kazunori (Hiroaki Tanaka) is a college student in many of the flashbacks. In college he finds himself among friends, dealing with controversy, and playing sports–all things that lend themselves to accessibility. Sure, we are traveling back and forth throughout time, and that has the potential to create something of a disconnect between content and viewers–but the simplicity of Kazunori’s past helps to keep the film grounded in some ways. I can picture myself in a soccer uniform, I can picture myself getting into an argument with a close friend, and I can imagine myself experiencing the same highs and lows depicted throughout Kazunori’s story. Before the Sunset is a bit science-fiction, a bit religious–but it finds ways to appeal to its more grounded viewers, those viewers that want to be pulled into a more simply-expressed narrative. In a lot of ways Before the Sunset is a roller coaster ride pulling viewers back and forth between fiction and reality, but it does enough to remind viewers that this is real–no matter how wild the story may get.

As much as I wanted to, as a result of Kazunori being so typical and unimaginative, I struggled to form an emotional connection with him. I certainly appreciate him, and I understand his plights–but to be able to empathize with him or have sympathy for him, that was far more difficult. He’s far too simple, and never given the opportunity to grow emotionally in a way that makes sense to viewers–at least not in a way that’s made obvious to viewers. Before the Sunset has a typical protagonist–so typical in fact that he is sometimes lost in the shuffle.

I was hoping that by the end of the film I would be able to come to terms with the set design–but it, much like Kazunori, is far too simple. Director Hiroshi Akabane selected the most cookie-cutter locations in which to shoot his film–and that caused some of the moments from Kazunori’s past and present to seem unrealistic. I couldn’t get on board with the set design, and there are moments of the film that are lost on me as a result. This further fractures any emotional connection that I attempted to develop between myself and the main character–as the scenarios in which he found himself often seem unrealistic and out of touch.

Again, Before the Sunset is unbelievably safe, never doing anything to extend itself beyond the norm. Akabane and Writer Ryuho Okawa seem to be alright with developing a film that exists somewhere in the middle of the road–and that’s exactly what they accomplish. I don’t think that Before the Sunset will wow audiences, but I really do think that it has the potential to make viewers think, ultimately appreciating the sentiment present throughout the film. The film’s simplicity will both cause the film to find some success and force viewers to struggle with finding an emotional connection.

Directed by Hiroshi Akabane.

Written by Ryuho Okawa.

Starring Hiroaki Tanaka, Masane Tsukayama, Rikako Miura, Syouzou Uesugi, etc.




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