A few thoughts on Momoko Ando’s 0.5 mm [Review]

Having attended the UK premiere of Japanese director Momoko Ando’s 0.5 mm – I felt compelled to write at least a few words on it, as the experience quite frankly blew me away. As the film ended, I felt at once both a great sigh of ‘ahhhh’, and an almost tangible sense of a weight lifting off me; as the intensity of the film’s emotions that had been building throughout its running time were finally set free. That feeling, perhaps, of finishing something that you will stay with you for a long, long time.

There are already a number of great reviews over on Variety, Screen Anarchy and Movie Fiends that offer a pretty comprehensive overview of the film’s plot and key themes – so what I’d like to attempt here is more a short summary of what the film is like to experience – as so much of what it meant to me was rooted in raw feelings. Suffice to say, 0.5 mm deserves to be seen – the kind of thing you find yourself bursting at the seams to share with people; to give them a copy of it and say ‘Please, watch this, feel this, too…’

Those ‘feelings’ are something I find myself returning to again and again in my love of Japanese film – both animated and live action. Whether it be nostalgia, or a sheer degree of pathos for life itself – I have to confess I’ve seen very little in Western cinema that offers those feelings with quite the same heart-wrenching intensity. Maybe my experience of life and emotion has just always felt itself more aligned with the way these things are expressed in Japanese cinema – if one can indeed reduce it to an amorphous whole like that. But this ‘heaviness of feelings’ – the phrase I’ve always thought of when I think of the feelings those truly great films evoke, is what 0.5 mm is all about.

One could compare 0.5 mm to Akira Kurosawa’s ionic Ikiru – it does, after all, deal with similar themes of mortality, abandonment and salvation; with the relationship between a young, enthusiastic woman and a world-weary old man at its heart. Or perhaps the servile relationship between Noriko and the elderly couple in Ozu’s Tokyo Story. I feel these are the easy, superficial comparisons to make – yet make them I will, to try and offer an inkling of what 0.5mm feels like to experience as a piece of visual medium.

The running time is immense – over three hours. In many ways serving us three mini-films of an hour or so each. Each one bringing us a story of protagonist Sawa (played so compelling by the director’s sister Sakura Ando – at once boyishly roguish, yet also utterly feminine) and an old man. Wrapped up in this we see broader, more overt themes emerge: the place of old people in Japan’s ageing society, the role of women, the psychology of the individual and the mass populace in relation to Japan in WW2 and beyond, and many more… Then beyond this, the themes and feelings that seem to spring more from the cracks in between – the kind of indefinable, elusive essence that comes from watching one character’s life play out in such close proximity on screen for over three hours.

When you watch a film like 0.5 mm – you sense, whether naively or not, that someone with Momoko Ando’s clear skill as both a writer and director is destined for future greatness. Hearing her speak before the screening in fluent, articulate English in a breezy, casual manner – I was reminded in many ways of highly acclaimed anime director Naoko Yamada – whose A Silent Voice in many ways left me with a same sense of almost overwhelming depth of feeling and a deep, expressive catharsis of life at both its best and worst.

Both Ando and Yamada stand as two exceptionally talented female Japanese directors, trailblazing a path for the kind of works that in my eyes – straddle a delicate line between the outright arthouse and what one could perhaps call the ‘waiting for mass awareness’ market; not quite mainstream, but with a robustness and strength of narrative drive that places them beyond ‘mere’ art pieces.

Sometimes I feel it’s too easy to be swept up in the wealth of feelings seeing a great film in the cinema can leave you with. Especially these days, when most films are streamed at the touch of a button, and invariably watched with a second-screen in hand serving as a constant distraction. In the cinema at least, we return to a pre-smart-phone era of isolation and quiet, contemplative focus on a singular experience.

0.5 mm – if it can ever really be summed up; is film as ‘experience’ – and for the time being at least, I feel I can give it a place up there amongst some of my favourite films ever.

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