©2017 MIDNIGHT BUS film committee
Once through the tunnel, he’s a man. Once he returns, he’s a father.
Taizo Harada gives a standout performance as Toshikazu, a middle-aged, long-distance bus driver who plies a lonely Japanese highway, metaphorically switching roles as he comes through the Kanetsu Tunnel between his Niigata life as the father of two and his Tokyo life as a divorcé with a girlfriend. Hard acquired a license as a bus driver for the role. Meanwhile, Mirai Yamamoto passionately portrays his melancholic ex-wife, Miyuki Kaga, who struggles daily with having abandoned the marriage and her two children years ago, but now is moved by the kindness of her ex-husband. Proven actor Manami Konishi exudes great pathos in the role of Shiho, the adoring and devoted girlfriend to Toshikazu in Tokyo, while the young adult siblings are deftly portrayed by Ko Nanase as elder brother, Reiji, and rising star, Wakana Aoi, who recently landed the lead role in the upcoming NHK serial drama “Warotenka”. The cast is rounded out by veteran actor, Kyozo Nagatsuka, lending a weighty presence to the role of Miyuki’s father, Keizo Yamabe, who seems to be in the early stages of dementia.
Directing the film is Masao Takeshita who learned the trade serving as assistant director to such luminary filmmakers as Yoichi Higashi, Toshiya Fujita, Nobuhiko Obayashi, Naoto Harada, Edward Yan and Kichitaro Negishi. Takeshita’s first feature film as a director, Jump, was also Taizo Harada’s first movie lead, making this film a happy reunion. The music of the film is performed by violinist Ikuko Kawai who earned the Best Music Award at the 36th Japan Academy Awards for A Chorus of Angels. The movie features beautiful location cinematography, most of which was shot in Niigata and showcases the beautiful wintry landscape of the Japan Alps with wintry white coat and graceful cygnets.
Middle-aged Toshikazu (nicknamed as “Riichi”) Takamiya (Taizo Harada) quits an oppressive job in Tokyo to returns to his hometown in Niigata Prefecture and starts a new life as a long-distance, red-eye bus driver. One evening on his usual route from Tokyo to Niigata, he is surprised to see a familiar looking woman boarding the bus at the last minute. It is his ex-wife, Miyuki (Mirai Yamamoto), whom he had divorced 16 years ago. He learns that Miyuki has a new family in Tokyo and is on her way to visit her sick father, who lives alone in Niigata, but he observes how fatigued she looks. Riichi and Miyuki had two children between them, Reiji (Kou Nanase )and Ayana (Wakana Aoi).
Riichi had just been considering re-marrying; to his current girlfriend Shiho (Manami Konishi) who runs a diner in Tokyo. But his eldest child, Reiji, then shows up at his door having also quit his job in Tokyo. Meanwhile, his daughter, Ayana, who shares an apartment with a friend, has launched an online shopping site selling manga and merchandise, and is conflicted between marriage and pursuing a dream that looks achievable. But it is Miyuki’s poor physical condition that nags at Riichi, having learned of her husband’s infidelity. With each family member at a crossroads, a family torn apart by divorce long ago, find themselves back in each other’s lives in Niigata, all looking for some help to move forward.
The 16 years Riichi and Miyuki have spent apart and the inconsolable reality of the present impel Riichi and Miyuki toward each other again. But they both understand their paths have diverged too much to ever realign again. Riichi has a steady girlfriend in Shiho and Miyuki has a husband and a young son to care for. And yet, Riichi finds himself thinking of Miyuki when with Shiho, and Shiho when with Miyuki.
Months after their reunion on the bus, with light snow falling, Riichi sees Miyuki off as she returns by bus to Tokyo. Alone with his thoughts, Riichi dwells on the his current station in life not completely whether it is a dark afternoon or the middle of evening. All around him is pitch blackness. But he has been here before countless times, and knows that if he keeps moving forward without fear, he’ll eventually be greeted ahead by a beautiful dawn. He turns his bus towards to Shiho. Life moves forward, not backwards. Or so he hopes.