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Review of the movie “Is This Heaven?” (2023) directed by Shinji Imaoka.
Review of the movie "Is This Heaven?" (2023) directed by Shinji Imaoka.

Review of the movie “Is This Heaven?” (2023) directed by Shinji Imaoka.

“Does This Place Exist?” captivates with its original examination of existence and the unknown after death, depicted through the emotional voyage of a pair in an otherworldly dimension.

by Mathew Gene

During the 2023 Osaka Asian Film Festival, one particular movie that received a lot of attention was “Is This Heaven?” directed by the talented Imaoka. Despite its limited resources, the film managed to captivate audiences with its compelling storytelling and unique sound design. This serves as a testament to Imaoka-san’s skill in creating thought-provoking cinema that connects with viewers on various levels. The impact of this movie goes beyond its narrative prowess and also sets a new bar for independent filmmakers in the Asian film industry.

The story, “Is This Heaven?”, follows the journey of Nobuo and Mayuko, a married couple who are mysteriously transported to an unknown afterlife. The setting, a beach between life and death, is the backdrop for their existential journey. The story is cleverly told in fragments, urging readers to unravel the mystery of the couple’s existence. This technique not only adds to the intrigue, but also reflects the disorientation and bewilderment felt by the characters, making for an immersive reading experience.

Imaoka’s directorial approach in “Is This Heaven?” is a blend of meticulous pacing and profound storytelling. The film’s pace is intentionally measured, allowing viewers to fully engage with the emotional and psychological nuances of the characters. Nobuo’s laissez-faire attitude, marked by his alcohol-infused escapism, is brilliantly contrasted with Mayuko’s palpable sense of bewilderment and search for understanding. This dichotomy is not just a narrative device but also a deeper commentary on the varying ways individuals confront the unknowns of existence.

The standout performances in the film “Is This Heaven?” include the portrayals of Nobuo (Hidetoshi Kawaya) and Mayuko (Aki Takeda). These actors bring a remarkable depth to their characters, skillfully portraying the complexity and nuances of their emotions. Through their interactions, the audience is given a glimpse into the inner struggles of individuals navigating the profound mysteries of existence and mortality.

The sound design by Taku Unami in the movie is particularly impressive. The continuous synth drone is not just background noise, but plays an active role in the storytelling. This unique approach to sound, combined with the film’s simplistic yet impactful set design, contributes to the authenticity and emotional depth of the story. Despite being limited by a small budget, the film’s visual elements are surprisingly effective in enhancing the storytelling, proving that creativity can thrive within constraints.

“Is This Heaven?” is an exceptional film that stands out in its ability to provoke thought and evoke emotion. Its unique approach to storytelling, combined with stellar performances and technical prowess, makes it an intriguing and compelling watch. Imaoka’s creative audacity and mastery in filmmaking are evident throughout this one-hour journey, making it a significant and memorable contribution to contemporary Asian cinema.