Odayaka (full title Odayaka na Nichijou, meaning something along the lines of ‘the tranquil everyday/regular’) is Nobuteru Uchida’s third film and the second I have seen of his. His previous film Love Addiction was screened at the International Film Festival Rotterdam 2011 edition and was received somewhat lukewarm by the public, although I personally enjoyed it quite a bit. Love Addiction focused on four people and their messed up romantic entanglements. It was largely dialogue driven, mostly just people sitting inside arguing for 90 minutes. A lot of criticism I heard from people around me was that they couldn’t empathize with the characters, and I have caught similar complaints about this film, Odayaka. I sincerely disagree.
Odayaka is a film centered around the 3/11 disaster in Japan, and the subsequent fears of radiation. We follow the lives of two women in Tokyo and the indirect impact the earthquake and tsunami have on their lives. Saeko is a twenty-something girl living with her husband and little daughter, her parents reside in the disaster-struck area and she has not been able to contact them. Not long after the disaster strikes her husband comes home and tells her he wants a divorce and leaves her. All she suddenly has left in her life is her little girl, since she doesn’t have a job either. As days and weeks pass, the Fukushima power plant situation worsens and Saeko gets more and more worried about radiation, and especially the effects it might have on her daughter. She makes her wear a mask to school and she implores the teachers of the school to start taking precautions against radiation, but as long as the government does not issue any orders, the school does not regard it as necessary to take any measures. Every day Saeko gets more anxious, simply wanting to protect her daughter, all the while being frowned upon by the rest of society who is acting like there is nothing to worry about (this is what the title of odayaka refers to).
In the same apartment building we find Yukako, a few years older than Saeko and living with her salaryman husband. She has an occasional part-time job but spends most of her time at home, and after the disaster she too becomes worried about radiation and does a lot of research. At a certain point she does not feel comfortable living in Tokyo anymore and asks her husband to request a transfer. Their relationship seems to already be somewhat on edge due to a past event and this adds to it. Both Saeko and Yukako seem like the only people actually concerned about the effects of radiation and this leads them to be labeled as neurotic. In all honesty, they do come across as a bit neurotic especially as the film progresses. But this is entirely understandable given their fear for something they cannot see, their desire to protect the children, and the rest of society completely ignoring the omnipresent possible dangers. Both women feel completely powerless, but whereas Yukako still has her husband as somewhat of a supporter, Saeko is completely alone. She ultimately reaches her breaking point and is driven to drastic measures, which luckily does lead to the two women finding each other.
This film really hits the nail on the head when it comes to the social problem of people blindly obeying their government and expert systems, especially now that we in retrospect know that the Japanese government did initially withhold and obscure information about the dangers. In addition, another social problem is approached, being that of discrimination within Japanese society. It might be a homogenous society from our Western point of view but severe discrimination still occurs for myriad reasons, as exemplified in, for instance, Masahiro Kobayashi’s ‘Bashing’ where a woman is shunned and badgered for having done volunteer work in the Middle East. Saeko experiences similar bashing by other mothers at her daughter’s school, despite the fact that all she wants to do is protect her (and their!) children. Odayaka is a film that demands a lot from its lead actresses, especially Kiki
Sugino who plays Saeko (who is also one of the producers). Although I have heard the exact opposite from critical viewers, to me, she really manages to make the gripping fear tangible. The despair in her eyes when trying to convince these blockheaded mothers and teachers, and the manner in which she embodies her anxiety through actions; her performance is subtle and blatant at the same time. In the case of Yukiko Shinohara who plays Yukako it is even more subtle, aside from one outburst of anxiety which was definitely one of the most compelling scenes in the film. Furthermore Uchida seems to have polished up his directing skills a lot, still keeping to his largely handheld style with ever-so frequent close-ups, but making it appear significantly more polished than it did in Love Addiction where it was still rough around the edges. All in all the outstanding acting performances make for a highly convincing social drama about very recent and very real issues. I, for one, am definitely keeping close tabs on especially Uchida’s and Sugino’s careers.