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Earlier this year, Japan’s Fuji-Q Highland amusement park advised coronavirus-conscious visitors to “scream inside your heart” while riding its roller coasters. The phrase could double up as a tagline for “All the Things We Never Said,” Yuya Ishii’s self-produced drama about the fraying relationships between three former high school friends.

The film’s protagonist, Atsuhisa (Taiga Nakano), certainly has things to scream about. His emotions are so bottled up, however, that he can’t even muster a response when he catches his wife, Natsumi (Yuko Oshima), in bed with another man. As the couple’s marriage collapses, their mutual friend, Takeda (Ryuya Wakaba), finds himself caught in the middle and powerless to avert the downward spiral.

Characters like Atsuhisa are a regular feature in Ishii’s work. If there’s a common thread running through his filmography, it’s his empathy for misfits: people who lack some essential quality that would enable them to move smoothly through life. His films can be as prickly as their characters, constantly chafing against expectations, although this formula tends to work better with bittersweet fare than with his attempts at pure comedy, such as last year’s ghastly “Almost a Miracle.”

All The Things We Never Said (Ikichatta)
Rating
Run Time 91 min.
Language Japanese, English, Mandarin
Opens Oct. 3

With its depictions of alienation and people struggling to connect, “All the Things We Never Said” has more in common with the director’s 2017 drama “The Tokyo Night Sky Is Always the Densest Shade of Blue,” but it’s a work of greater immediacy. That’s partly because Ishii has ditched the distracting mannerisms of his earlier film, but likely has more to do with the constraints he was operating under this time.

The movie was commissioned as part of a project by the Hong Kong International Film Festival Society and China’s Heaven Pictures, which tapped six Asian directors to make “Back to Basics” features on a meager budget of about ¥15 million each. Taking advantage of some unexpected downtime after a scheduled shoot in South Korea was postponed, Ishii wrote a script in three days and started shooting a couple of months later.

The hastiness of the film’s execution is evident in the roughness of the storytelling. Ishii tries to cover a lot of ground without always finding the most elegant way to do so, resulting in some exposition-heavy dialogue and repeated use of title cards to move the narrative forward.

Yet the film’s raggedness also works in its favor. Ishii taps some raw emotions here, and he manages to draw some strong performances from his cast. Oshima has never been better, while Wakaba, who normally gets relegated to minor roles, shows he’s a capable actor.

Takeda’s dogged support for Atsuhisa offers a bright spot amid the film’s bleak vision of life, which is as inhospitable as the industrial locations where much of the action takes place. The story features both prostitution and a hikikomori (recluse) character (played with mute intensity by South Korean director Park Jung-bum), and with each, Ishii only seems able to imagine the worst possible outcome.

If that sounds like a relentless downer, the film is redeemed by its powerful depiction of male friendship, building to an emotional climax, the impact of which is only slightly attenuated by the fact that it’s featured in the movie’s poster. Giving away the ending would normally count as a spoiler. Seeing that these characters were jinxed to start with, it feels almost appropriate.

In line with COVID-19 guidelines, the government is strongly requesting that residents and visitors exercise caution if they choose to visit bars, restaurants, music venues and other public spaces.

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