Sway: One of the Top 10 Greatest Asian Films of All Time
When I first heard that Jo Odagiri wanted to retire from acting right after doing this movie because he believes he will never again come across a script with such brilliant story and exploration, I knew I had to see it. I had to understand what was it with this movie that made a passionate actor want to quit and made him believe it is the greatest he will ever do.
To date, Odagiri still believes he has not done anything that would top that movie. He, however, has not quit acting. Luckily, he is still around but after seeing the movie, I do agree with him. He has not done anything that’s better than 'Sway'. In fact, there are very few films that have been produced since Sway that may be considered at par.
Takeru Hayakawa (Jo Odagiri) is a successful photographer in Tokyo. He returns to his hometown to bury his mother. His arrives late dressed in the usual Tokyo hip fashion which offended his father. Takeru is reunited with his brother, Minoru (Teruyuki Kagawa). He is left home to take on the family business, a gas station.
Takeru sees his ex-girfriend Chieko (Yôko Maki). She is now with Minoru. They decided to go to a place they frequented as children, a wooden bridge hanging over a deep river. None of them crossed the bridge when they were kids.
As they were exploring the place, it is revealed that Takeru asked Chieko to go with him to Tokyo and she regrets not going. He then leaves her to cross the bridge. Eventually, she decides to follow him and face her fear of the bridge. Minoru catches up and asked her if she has feelings for Takeru, she deniis it. When Takeru heard the argument, he went to go and see the two only to find that Chieko has fallen off the bridge.
The one thing that stood out to me whas the brilliant use of symbolism.
For one, the title of the movie, 'Sway', is a symbolism in itself. As Takeru recalled the events of that day, his recollection goes to the days of his youth spent in this province and to the days of his more recent memories as a photographer.
It was during his youth when the seeds of resentment were born. It was a time when the ordinary routine of daily life prompted him to dream of bigger things, a time when his hatred for the things that could be made him hate the things that was.
His present life is his successful escape, the life he supposedly wanted, where he is everything that mattered to him when he was a kid. But it's also when he got lost between what he thought he wanted and what he wanted really meant.
These two memories got muddled up, not the events, but the emotions, so bad that what was, was supposed to be and what never came to be almost became so indistinguishable to him. Thus, his resolve on whether or not his brother is guilty became almost impossible for him to determine.
The whole event where the death of the girl happened also parallels the tragedy of their individual fate.
They have always feared the bridge when they were kids. The height, the instability and the fall that awaits should they falter in their steps would mean death. It was Takeru who "crossed the bridge" and took the risk even though the three of them had dreams when they were kids. In fact, Takeru asked the girl to go with him to Tokyo but she didn't have the courage to leave her past and walks the unsteady path that could lead to the destruction of everything she had.
When he came back and the three of them went to the bridge, Takeru left the girl in the middle of their conversation. The same way he left her for Tokyo when their relationship was going good. He crossed the bridge and saw the beautiful garden he has never seen before. The same way he was the one who left the province for Tokyo and also the one who found the beauty he never thought he'd experience.
It was that bridge, that bridge that separated Takeru from his past and the courage he had to leave it all behind. It was the bridge and the courage that separated him from his brother and the girl.
The brilliance in symbolisms is carried through the exploration of the narrative. Almost the whole film, from the death of the girl onwards, happened in the court room which could have easily made it boring and monotonous. However, the director and the writer found the proper phasing between raising questions, providing answers, injecting doubts that even during lengthy indoor scenes with kilometric lines, it remained gripping and intense.
At the beginning of the trial, Takeru started out distraught for losing the only woman he actually really loved and having his brother involved in it. He was also confused as everyone presses him for the truth he doesn't really know.
As he recalls the events surrounding the girl's death, his pain turns to resolve to know the truth.
He started digging deep, recalling details he might have ignored, thinking those weren't important. For every detail he recalls, he looked for a motive that would justify and strengthen his interpretation of his actions. His justifications were convincing but just as he seems to have drilled down the truth, emotions of the past come into play, casting doubt on whether it is the truth he sees or his emotions that make up what he believes.
Interestingly, it is when doubts are created does the truth about his relationship with his brother is uncovered and it is messy and painful and confusing and sad.
The film begins with a seemingly clear picture of his older brother resenting the success Takeru had and the doom he was left behind. However, as Joe recalls the past and digs deeper in his emotions, it becomes clear that resentment doesn't lie exclusively on his brother. It becomes increasingly clear that Takeru's decision to leave and stay away may not necessarily because of his passion for his present life but fear of facing the past he tried to escape and facing the future he partly wishes he has.
It was a perfect cast ad both Odagiri and Kagawa played their character as if they weren’t acting and were actually being Takeru and Minoru.
Odagiri was fully sucked in his role. At the beginning of the film when all he was supposed to be was a glamorous city boy, he projected nothing but coldness and regality. That is why it was even more impressive to watch him peel his apparent pretentions layer by layer. Every word he utters becomes a revelation in what seemed to be a perpetual character exploration. By the time the move finishes, the man in the beginning of the film became unrecognizable.
Kagawa, perhaps because of Odagiri’s popularity, weren’t always recognized in this movie but it is his ability to “blend” and become so much a part of the milieu that testifies to how good he is as an actor. His character called him to be exactly that, a voiceless entity, unrecognizable face... a nobody. It was those characteristics that made him resent his brother but it is also those characteristics that made it logical for him to be what he ended up becoming by the end of the film.
Watch Sway and watch it now. It will surely be a part of your Top 10 Greatest Asian Films of All time.
- Directed by Miwa Nishikawa
- Produced by Kiichi Kumagai
- Written by Miwa Nishikawa
- Starring : Jo Odagiri, Teruyuki Kagawa, Masatō Ibu, Hirofumi Arai, Yōko Maki