Takashi Yamazaki’s "Always – Sunset on Third Street" is shamelessly sentimental (sort of admirably so) and gooey with nostalgia, in the fine tradition of many filmic representations of the 50s, which assure us that, for a decade, the world went slightly sepia-toned. The winner of 13 Japanese Academy Prizes (among them "Best Picture," "Best Director" and "Best Screenplay"), "Always" is a broad crowd-pleaser about the residents of a small neighborhood in Tokyo in the late 50s, when the promise of economic success was luring many into the cities, among them Mutsuko, a young girl from the countryside who accepts, sight-unseen, a job at an "automobile factory" that turns out to be a tiny car repair shop run by the hot-tempered Mr. Suzuki. Suzuki lives upstairs with his wife and young son, and turns out, like most of the characters, to actually have a heart of gold.
Across the street is Chagawa, a hapless would-be novelist who supports himself by running a dusty candy shop and writing boy’s adventure serials. He goes out drinking at the local bar run by Hiromi (model-turned-actress Koyuki, who played Tom Cruise‘s love interest in the unfortunate "The Last Samurai"), a former dancer who’s trying to leave her seedy past behind and run a legitimate business. Unfortunately, she’s just been burdened with the abandoned child of a former coworker of her — but, being a savvy girl, she gets a drunken Chagawa to agree to take the boy in for an indefinite while.
While there’s plenty of sap to be had among the daily dramas of these makeshift urban families, there’s also an irresistible sense of excitement and joy to the scenes greeting the influx of new technology and global influence: the neighborhood gathers to watch the Suzuki family’s long-awaited TV, and everyone cheers on pro wrestler Rikidozan‘s signature karate chop; the elderly tobacconist takes to guzzling Coca-Cola, while someone else suspiciously notes that it "looks like soy sauce"; and the Tokyo Tower looms half-built in the horizon. It’s through technology that the golden-tinged 50s cityscape has been recreated; it has the haze of a computer-generated backdrop, which, in combination with clear studio lot the street set exists on, gives the vague impression that the story is taking place in an Epcot Center version of half-a-decade-ago Tokyo — charming and romanticized, and never quite real.
Screens June 14 at the Japan Society and July 1 at the ImaginAsian.