Dei ando naito (English title: Day and Night). 2019. Directed & Written by Michihito Fujii.
Starring Shin’nosuke Abe, Masanobu Andô, Kaya Kiyohara, Tetsushi Tanaka, & Manami Konishi.
Not Rated / 134 minutes
Drama / Thriller
Disclaimer: Significant spoilers ahead
Before we get into this article, Father Gore would like to make clear, for anybody who’s not been a regular visitor on the site, he identifies as a Marxist. If that makes anybody uncomfortable— too bad! It needed to be mentioned prior to talking about Michihito Fujii’s new film, which played at Fantasia Festival recently in Montreal. It’s very much about the David v. Goliath struggle of economically disadvantaged places and the capitalist industries squeezing the life from them.
Day and Night is the story of a whistleblower in a Japanese village who tried to go up against an auto giant and expose dangerous safety practices. He was ostracised and his business fell into shambles preceding his eventual suicide. The man’s son, Koji Akashi (Shin’nosuke Abe), returns home after a long absence in Tokyo. He comes for the funeral and finds his family in a state of disrepair: his mother mourns her husband while his sister stresses about money / the future.
Koji ends up meeting Kenichi Kitamura (Masanobu Andô), a friend of his father’s, and it’s only days before he’s joining Kitamura to commit ‘moral crimes’ at night, in an effort to help fund an orphanage. Koji becomes embroiled in these acts, not knowing much about Kitamura’s past, while simultaneously trying to get to the bottom of what really happened to his father.
Koji comes up against the forces of capitalism in its varied forms, one of which involves the tragic alienation of the working class and how it affects other members of the same class. Fujii’s screenplay digs most into the moral ramifications of revenge. His film questions exactly where we draw the line when it comes to revenge and what this means for the concept of justice. Koji faces difficult moral decisions with good intentions, but it may lead him down an irreversible path. The choices he’ll make illustrate the ways revenge can either go on in a never ending cycle because we are obsessed with justice, no matter how it’s delivered, or how we can choose to cauterise destructive cycles.
Small towns are targets for capitalist industry. They’re vulnerable economically— workers can easily be exploited because of a general lack of work, and the fact workers are desperate for jobs means companies can, all too often, get away with the exploitation. This is the crux of Day and Night. Mr. Akashi— whom people call “a classic example of a good man“— tries to do the moral thing by exposing the local auto giant for putting money above consumer safety, and it throws a wrench into the plans of industry. The sad thing is, capitalism makes use of its effects on workers to help stop rebellion in its tracks.
An aspect of Marxist philosophy is the concept of alienation. Capitalism alienates us from other people, as well as ourselves. The more we care about money, the less we care about the people around us. The less we care about people around us, the easier it is for industry to manipulate us individually based on need(/greed). In the film, this is presented in a bunch of ways. First, a mechanic called Kawakami plays a part in the cogs of the auto giant’s plans by helping to ruin Akashi, so alienated from his own morality he chooses to help discredit an honest man for the sake of a pay cheque. Overall, the town turned its back on Akashi, willing to believe in a car company because of the business it brings to their village over a man many of them had known their entire lives.
The best example of alienation is a simple divide between father and son. Koji later laments to Kitamura how he hated his father, despite knowing he was a good person, solely because it was always work above family. So, before the whistleblowing destroyed Mr. Akashi’s life literally, capitalism was destroying his life from the inside out.
The world of adults— who’ve entered into the workforce and experienced the ravages of capitalism firsthand— is in stark contrast throughout Day and Night with the world in which children live. Kids, especially orphans like Nana (Kaya Kiyohara)— or Koji as a child, incapable of comprehending why his father was rarely at home— exist relatively undefined by capitalism, at least in their perspective. Nana’s told to “be more realistic” when she expresses she’d like to be an artist. She doesn’t yet know the world as bound by strict economic confines of class, and she retains that youthful innocence.
One of the best sequences in the film is an epitome of its title. The world of adults, steeped in capitalism, is like night compared to the sunnier view of the world kids have, shielded by innocence. A montage features the visual shift from day to night, as Koji slowly becomes a criminal in his own right. There’s a shot of him counting cash at night that cuts to him in the day peeling hard boiled eggs and onions at the orphanage, and the editing beautifully points out the transparent cloak between the two different co-existing worlds. This is all the jumping off point for a wider discussion on morality.
“I did what I had to
for a peaceful life”
Kitamura’s past is briefly mentioned early on after he meets Koji, so his reasoning for committing ‘moral crimes’ is clear. It isn’t until later we discover his ‘good’ deeds are actually a way for him to buy back pieces of his own soul, having killed another man for murdering his wife, which made Nana an orphan. Kitamura’s crime raises the question of whether revenge actually solves anything, and our answers to that may raise further questions about the nature of justice itself.
We’ve all imagined taking revenge, to some degree, for wrongs persecuted against us, and though many people run through the imagined scenario of ‘what if someone we loved was hurt’ and what they’d do in that case, the majority of us never probe any deeper into what taking revenge outside the law means for our sense of justice. Revenge dilutes the concept of justice, retroactively destroying our own conception of the law which led to our want for revenge.
Revenge itself begets further acts of revenge in a vicious circle. Take Kitamura, a prime example— his act of vengeance leaves Nana an orphan and potentially susceptible to her own revenge fantasies, not to mention what happens to him in the end. More than that, revenge can revert us to an animalistic state. Before the very final moments of the film is an important one between Miyake and Koji. The primitive nature of violent revenge reduces these two men to archetypes, as if they’re two warring cavemen from different tribes fighting with a lead pipe standing in for a wooden club or a bone.
“What’s good or bad
is all about the logic of the numbers”
Day and Night was one of the best non-genre films at Fantasia, and will be in the Top 20 of 2019 come the site’s year-end Best Of list. Fujii crafts a compelling dramatic thriller with solid performances, along with an absolutely cracking score by Yusuke Tsutsumi. It’s an added treat that the screenplay looks at capitalism and the economic system’s inherent class struggle, all while remaining entertaining and never once feeling as if the writing is attempting to preach at the audience.
Perhaps the best accomplishment of Fujii’s film is that its questions are never easy. It genuinely challenges the viewer. If, to dispense justice, we step outside the law ourselves, then we abandon our conception of law and order, effectively erasing any pre-existing moral lines. If we become criminals in the name of delivering justice to criminals, then what do criminals become? Then again, what good is the law if it doesn’t protect the vulnerable, and if money influences who faces its repercussions?
Koji’s personal predicament doesn’t provide answers in a broader social context, it offers hope that those who get swept up in the anger of vengeance are able to find a way out of the cycle before it takes everything from them.