New-wave Japanese cinema has specialized in emotionally engaging, warm family portraits, delineating with extraordinary delicacy the social context against which the traditional social cell is slowly being transformed. One can even get the impression that after the international successes of Hirokazu Koreeda, family drama has become the leading genre and – among lesser known Japanese filmmakers, eager to break through – produced in bulk.
Miwa Nishikawa builds a different kind of story on the foundation of socially involved cinema, approaching its heroes with kind tenderness. In Under the Open Sky, the director gives herself a lot of time and space to expose the protagonist, caring for the credibility of his psychology and the depth of the drama of incompatibility with the rest of society.
Mikami is a former yakuza who has been released after 13 years of prison. Despite the fact that the protagonist does not show special remorse for the murder he did years earlier, he decides to try to start life anew, this time legally, honestly. The main obstacle for the protagonist will be not only the fact that he was a member of the mafia in the past and is a man after a prison sentence, but also aggression to which he was accustomed to (including prison), as well as being task-oriented and having steel discipline that will make it difficult for him to find a suitable job.
Nishikawa does not judge her character’s past, focusing on his sincere intentions to return to society and the obstacles that the flawed resocialization system in Japan throws under Mikami’s legs, failing to provide adequate resources for a fresh start and leaving the ex-prisoner on his own.
Under the Open Sky is a tender, humane and open look towards a person who ended up on the dregs of society, despite having served a well-deserved punishment. Mikami is a stubborn and determined man. By transforming a criminal’s toughness into perseverance, he learns social relationships and builds himself anew – sometimes dealing with rejection, sometimes with surprising understanding and compassion.
The Japanese director points to the disadvantages of the social resocialization system, noting the social value that still lies in people who have served their sentence, but have to deal not only with the burden of past mistakes, but also with the ostracism of being a convict. Under the Open Sky is not a film that completely whitens its protagonist by – it’s a critical portrait of his character. Nishikawa puts forward the thesis that when the state does not care for the rights of its citizens, it pushes this responsibility onto the shoulders of ordinary people.