Letters from Kanai Nirai
Original Title: ニライカナイからの手紙
Release date: May 28, 2005
Director: Naoto Kumazawa
Screenplay by: Naoto Kumazawa
Cast: Yu Aoi, Manami Higa, Yuta Kanai, Hitomi Kawai, Gin Maeda, Kaho Minami, Ayumu Saito, Susumu Taira
Let’s start this review by saying that as of this date, this film has no available English subtitles. What does this mean? That with my very elemental knowledge of Japanese, I will try to make something of this.
I am no stranger to watching films in languages that I don’t understand without subtitles, but they’re scattered. However, since Ghost already outed me as a Yu Aoi fan, there’s little to hide.
Letters from Kanai Nirai — Nirai Kanai for real, I don’t know why the title inversion — is in essence a melodrama, a genre Yu Aoi seems to pick a lot. It tells the story of Fuki Asato (Aoi), a girl living in the Okinawan islands away from everything that could resemble a big metropolis, including being away from her mother who left the island when Fuki was only seven.
Since then, every year on Fuki’s birthday she receives a letter from her mother in Tokyo, making Fuki dream of becoming a photographer and visiting Tokyo to see her mom.
But maybe I am misleading you. Letters from Kanai Nirai is a little bit coming of age story, and a little bit My Life Without Me — and that’s me spoiling the movie for you. However, that’s not what makes the film. What elevates Kanai Nirai as a melodrama is the extended family aspect of the film. Fuki lives with her grandfather, who despite not being affectionate, would give her the moon to protect her.
There’s also the townspeople on the island, who have seen Fuki grow into a young lady and see her as their niece, grandchild or sister. It’s that relationship, though not deeply explored in the film, that moves me the most. It’s that familiar feeling when one goes away from their hometown, away from the family you love, and the food you’re used to eating — life in Tokyo is cold for Fuki, as she warms herself eating some pickled garlic.
Overall, there’s no edge in a film like Letters from Kanai Nirai, but if you’re into those slowly-paced Japanese dramas in which there’s an emphasis on what makes family and what makes a home… then you might be in for something.