‘My Sunshine’ Review: Wistful Ice Dancing Tale Confirms Hiroshi Okuyama As Emerging Japanese Filmmaker – Cannes Film Festival

In Japan the very first few snowflakes begin to fall signaling the change of seasons. Another clue is we see young Takuya (Keitatsu Koshiyama) and his baseball-playing buddies taking those final swings at bat and moving on to ice hockey. That is basically how this quiet and lilting charmer of a coming-of-age story is introduced, and it sets the table perfectly for what is to follow.

Only the second narrative feature film for promising 28-year-old filmmaker Hiroshi Okuyama, whose first film 2018’s Jesus like this one also dealt with children, My Sunshine does not come from his own childhood experiences but is a story about figure skating, or in this case ice dancing, with which he has always been fascinated but never had a way in. Finally listening over and over to Humbert Humbert’s song “My Sunshine,” he not only got the English-language title for the film, but also enough inspiration to write the original screenplay. It turns out to be a lovely wistful movie about two children and their coach as each finds themselves with a life-changing experience over one winter and their shared bond with ice dancing. Friendship and purpose arrive but like everything else isn’t always permanent.

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Takuya is at the ice rink for his hockey activities but becomes fascinated watching the graceful figure skating talents of young Sakura (Kiara Nakanishi) as she traverses the ice. What is he thinking? Is this something he would prefer to be doing himself? The coach, Arakawa (Sosuke Ikematsu), has his eye slyly on Takuya and senses he just might have some potential. Call it an instinct. When he offers to loan a prized pair of ice skates to the boy he is rebuffed but not for long. Soon, off in a corner of the rink by himself, Takuya stumbles and falls as he attempts a pale imitation of what he saw Sakura doing. But there is something there that Coach Arakawa decides to spend time honing. Before long he is training Takuya who is improving greatly and now being paired for ice dancing with none other than Sakura, both kids taken under his wing.

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It all goes on from there as the kids find they have chemistry on the ice, and with their coach embark on some serious training, even taking fun field trips out into the world to further not just their talents on ice, but also the innocent friendship. Complications arise however later in the film, Sakura sense something wrong, and all of a sudden there is a threat to their alliance even before the snow begins melting.

Okuyama does not attempt to hit us over the head or engage in the tropes of this kind of story revolving around the growing pains of youth. There is no melodrama here. Instead he moves his camera (he is also cinematographer) as gracefully as his young dancers. It is shot in such a way, quietly joyous at times, that it resembles a mood piece. We get to know each slowly and deliberately in what is essentially a three-hander. Such is the stuff of life, and clearly the writer-director has been influenced by others, I would say notably the great Japanese filmmaker Hirokazu Kore-eda, who has also proven he knows how to work with young actors in this way and with whom he previously collaborated on a project. In fact, Okuyama never gave his stars a script, or even any lines to say until they were on set. He wanted it all as natural as possible so that included encouraging them to speak as they would normally. The improvisational style succeeds nicely, even with the adult in the triangle.

There is no question Okuyama is one to watch. So is My Sunshine, which reps his first visit to the Cannes Film Festival where it is part of the Un Certain Regard competition, and a formidable one at that.

Title: My Sunshine
Festival: Cannes (Un Certain Regard)
Director-screenwriter: Hiroshi Okuyama
Cast: Sosuke Ikematsu, Keitatsu Koshiyama, Kiara Nakanishi
Sales agent: Charades
Running time: 1 hr 30 min

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