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Movie Critique: Dry Spell (2023) directed by Masaya Takahashi
Movie Critique: Dry Spell (2023) directed by Masaya Takahashi

Movie Critique: Dry Spell (2023) directed by Masaya Takahashi

The city of Maebashi is haunted by absence, just as the absence of rain during the peak of summer is a reminder of the lack of humanity. The residents, drained of comfort and happiness, have been hardened by their circumstances and find it difficult to thrive. Instead, they live in fear of any disruption to their fragile existence. And yet, they feel a responsibility to maintain appearances so that the innocent ones among them do not suffer as they have. Based on Mitsuru Kawabayashi’s 1990 novel, Takahashi’s film ‘Dry Spell’ delves into the overwhelming challenges of growing older in a world where human decency is disappearing. Even thirty years after the novel’s release, its portrayal of poverty, especially among children, remains relevant and moving.

Camera Japan is showing Dry Spell.

Maeboshi is experiencing a severe heatwave and is also facing a water shortage, with no chance of rain. Public pools are closed, empty, and locked, and public faucets are being shut off one by one. The water department is even setting an example by keeping their vehicles dirty. Shunsaku Iwakiri, tasked with shutting off water to those who are behind on their bills, remains unmoved by their pleas for more time. However, when he visits the Koide household, he becomes more lenient after learning about their difficult situation as a single-parent family. But when the mother leaves her two young daughters Keiko and Kumiko (played by Yamazaki Nanami and Yuzuho) for a potential relationship, the girls are left to take care of themselves in their desperate situation. When Iwakiri and his colleague Takuji Kida (played by Hayato Isomura) return to shut off the water supply, they show one last act of kindness before leaving the house without water.

The sisters are soon forced to steal from nearby convenience stores in order to survive. At the same time, Iwakiri is struggling with guilt over his actions and his wife leaving with their child. Takayashi effectively portrays the harsh reality of absenteeism and its impact on Japanese society through the story of ‘Dry Spell’. Keiko, who has taken on the roles of both mother and sister to Kumiko since their abandonment, has lost her childhood and hides her vulnerability from those around her. As the story unfolds, both Keiko and Iwakiri must confront their own personal conflicts and ultimately come to understand the greater consequences of their actions. The film’s finale, while somewhat predictable, highlights the message that there is more at stake than just access to water.

Keiko and Iwakiri sit on opposite sides, but they share more similarities than they care to admit. Their past experiences have caused them to disassociate from themselves and be distrustful of those who have been corrupted in some way. Ikuta and Nanami reveal their inner truths through their body language and facial expressions instead of speaking, avoiding sentimentalism and relying on the score for emotional impact. They counteract Yuzuho and Isomura’s naivety by wearing masks and carrying their burdens subtly, with just a look or change in their eyes. Their subtle performances feel authentic and effectively convey the struggles depicted in Kawabayashi’s source material.

Throughout its duration, ‘Dry Spell’ gradually reveals the innermost thoughts and emotions of its characters through a well-paced and edited narrative. As the heat and water supply diminish, Keiko and Iwakiri struggle to survive in this harsh environment, with director Takahashi carefully exposing their vulnerabilities piece by piece. Against a backdrop of desolation, Ryutaro Hakamada further isolates the main characters from their surroundings as they fight for both water and their own existence. The minimalist approach utilized here highlights the gravity of the water department’s actions, ultimately leading to a point of no return for both Iwakiri and Keiko.

Takahashi’s film, while not reaching the intensity of Koreeda’s ‘Nobody Knows’, still offers a thought-provoking and restrained experience with subdued forces and silenced voices struggling to be heard. Set during Gunma Prefecture’s heatwave in 2022, ‘Dry Spell’ truly captures the heart-wrenching struggles of Japan’s hochigo (abandoned children) with sincerity. It delves into a harsh and all-too-real world that may hit close to home for many, especially during times of economic uncertainty. Despite its bleak outlook, the film refrains from preaching or overwhelming the audience, instead creating a genuine connection to the characters’ perspectives. While it may not take bold risks, the lasting impact of ‘Dry Spell’ will linger long after its bittersweet ending.