‘The more we have, the less we have.’ Such is the notion that Daihachi Yoshida’s Pale Moon embodies. Over a 2 hour journey into the deepest reaches of the human psyche, Yoshida’s Pale Moon proves to be one of the most affecting drama films to come out of Japan since perhaps The Kirishima Thing, which is in fact another one of Yoshida’s works. I think I’m seeing a theme here. Irregardless of that it must be said that Pale Moon is simply a captivating film lead by a phenomenal Rie Miyazawa, who plays the role of Rika with true soul and a true sense of pathos. This is one film that most walking into the 18th Japanese Film Festival will not have great expectations for, but much like The Kirishima Thing, it will shake audiences to their very core. After all it does happens once in a while.
Pale Moon follows Rika Umezawa, a young banker who leads a rather routine life until she one day decides to ‘break bad’ and betray her client’s trust for her own financial and emotional gain. She begins embezzling her clients finances and engages in an extramarital affair with a college student. Slowly her life begins to spiral out of control as one bad decision leads to the next.
Rika’s downward spiral is fascinating to watch in the same way a train wreck is. You know you are baring witness to something horrible, sheer destruction, yet you just cannot pry your eyes away.While in most cases a character such as Rika would be despicable and irredeemable, Pale Moon writes her with genuine empathy.
The key to the character of Rika and the message that underlies the entire film is that in every human being’s heart their is an inherent desire for something more. We all want something more, to varying degrees of course. It is in this basic human desire that Rika becomes a character the audience can empathize with. While she steals from the old rich and engages in weekend long love-ins with her college boyfriend, we can’t help but feel pity for Rika, knowing that soon enough it is all going to come crashing down.
It is the films final moments that it becomes most clear what Rika’s real motivations are for all of this. She is desperately searching for something real. Be it a real kind of happiness or real meaning in her life. She mistakenly believes that money can buy her those things, that love lies in another man’s arms and that for some reason she deserves it. Perhaps most telling is her thoughts on the idea of money, “It’s all fake, money doesn’t give you any freedom.” And that is in the end what we all hope for, some kind of freedom, but Rika learns that having more is having less.
Desires lie within us all and Pale Moon plays out somewhat like a wish fulfillment fantasy gone wrong. The idea is simple yet the layers placed upon it give the ‘what if you did whatever you wanted’ concept true emotional weight that will strike to the core of anyone who has ever thought about being selfish for even a moment. It is one hell of a powerful film and yet another feather in the cap of directorial genius Daihachi Yoshida.
Yoshida’s direction is simply brilliant here in Pale Moon, much like his previous films we see the recurring use of silence to let emotion sink into the viewer. Furthermore his use of colour shifts make for great juxtaposition between Rika’s monotonous daily life (shades of greys and blues) and her extravagant secret life (vibrant colours bursting with life). These choices make Pale Moon stand out visually giving the film a unique look to match its distinct story and cast.
Pale Moon may very well be the dark horse for best film at the 18th Japanese Film Festival. Not many will take notice of it, but Daihachi Yoshida has made a name for himself on the back of quiet successes such as The Kirishima Thing so it looks like Pale Moon will follow suit. At its core Pale Moon explores themes of desire, love, pain and emptiness. If you are in the mood for a thoughtful film that will leave you feeling quite reflective, Pale Moon is the one to see.
Daihachi Yoshida has done it again, Pale Moon is staring contest cinema at its best, you don’t want to blink for a second for fear of missing even a second of something truly incredible. Through Rika’s journey of falsities Pale Moon finds something real; true heart and soul.