This hasn’t been a great decade for new Japanese filmmakers, but Kazuya Shiraishi has left his mark. Since debuting with “Lost Paradise in Tokyo” (2009), the Hokkaido-born director has been churning out movies at a prolific clip.

Some, like crime dramas “The Devil’s Path” (2013) and “The Blood of Wolves” (2018), have been very good indeed; others, like this year’s “A Gambler’s Odyssey 2020,” were total duds. Yet it’s always interesting to see what Shiraishi will come up with next — and he seldom keeps you waiting long.

“One Night” is the third film the director has released during 2019, and with its starry cast and torrid family drama, it’s possibly the most conventional thing he’s done to date. Based on a stage play by Yuko Kuwabara, it delves into themes that are familiar from Shiraishi’s previous work: whether the ends ever justify the means, and if there’s any hope for people who commit awful deeds.

One Night (Hitoyo)
Director Kazuya Shiraishi
Run Time 123
Language Japanese
Opens NOV. 8

On a rain-swept night, taxi driver Koharu Inamura (Yuko Tanaka) returns home to tell her bruised and battered children that she’s just killed their abusive dad. Announcing that they’re now free to live their lives as they please, she vanishes into the night, vowing to return 15 years later.

True to her word, she shows up at the family taxi firm just in time for the 15th anniversary of her husband’s demise, only to find that her offspring haven’t lived up to their youthful promise. Daiki (Ryohei Suzuki) now works at a small electrical firm and is watching his marriage fall apart, Sonoko (Mayu Matsuoka) is a hostess at a snack bar and Yuji (Takeru Satoh) has traded in his novelist ambitions for a career as a tabloid magazine writer in Tokyo.

Koharu’s sudden reappearance brings them back together, though it’s not the happiest of reunions. While Sonoko is adamant that their mother saved them, Yuji is less forgiving, and seems intent on exploiting the situation for his professional gain.

Koharu gets a warmer welcome from the taxi firm staff, who all have family issues of their own. Yumi (Mariko Tsutsui) is having an affair while caring for her senile mother-in-law, while Michio (Kuranosuke Sasaki), a new recruit with a shadowy past of his own, is trying to reconcile with his estranged teenage son.

The latter plotline is given considerably more weight here than in the original play, and, during its final act, the film starts to become as lurid as one of Yuji’s magazine articles. After the taut execution of some of the earlier scenes, the climax is a disappointing mess, as the story’s pieces smash together — both literally and figuratively — without achieving much by way of catharsis.

Making the most of some dowdy real-life locations, “One Night” seldom betrays its stage origins. Save for some iffy flashbacks featuring child actors, the performances are strong: Tanaka suggests that her character’s kind demeanor conceals a deep reservoir of steel, while Matsuoka is luminous in every scene, even as the script leaves her with increasingly little to do.

Though each of the main players gets their big dramatic moment, it’s the quieter scenes and unexpected comic touches that leave the deeper impression. For all the storminess of its narrative, “One Night” is at its most engaging when it lets in a little light.

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