The Long Excuse | No Tears Shed At His Wife's Funeral


Japanese movies: gloomy yet nuanced portrayals

Japanese films are often known for their somber tone, yet they excel in portraying emotions with great sensitivity. In my opinion, works like Hirokazu Kore-eda's Still Walking and After the Storm are among the finest family-themed films in the world.

Actually, I might have never considered watching The Long Excuse if it weren't for a friend's recommendation and the close mentorship between director Miwa Nishikawa and Hirokazu Kore-eda. Even the title itself sounds boring enough to push me away.

However, to my surprise, I not only watched this film but also ended up viewing it twice.

What's even more remarkable is that my viewing experience was completely different during the first and second viewings.

First Viewing: Too Many Defects

The opening of the film is concise and captivating, quickly establishing the characters and their relationships within just a few minutes.

The main character of the story is a middle-aged married writer who is moderately well-known. However, he is currently having an affair with another woman. While his wife is away on a trip with a friend, he is in bed with his lover back home. The following morning, he receives a call informing him that his wife has died in a bus crash.

After a compelling introduction, the subsequent narrative takes a discomforting turn for me. The writer's lack of sorrow over his wife's death is incredibly unsettling. He shows no signs of grief, not even a tear. True, he had fallen out of love with his wife, but after all, they were married for over a decade and had built companionship! The husband too callous for me to empathize with.

What unfolds next is even more incredible. After insincerely mourning his wife's death at the funeral, the writer start a new life, helping the husband of his wife's deceased friend take care of their children. The narrative then delves into his interaction with children, stretching a significant portion of the film’s focus. It really doesn’t make sense to me – how is the protagonist dedicated to someone else’s children so much more than his late wife?

Stranger still, the director seems to intentionally create a distinction from the earlier part of the film. The two children, as well as their father, have an extended presence, while the opening focus on the writer’s wife and his mistress. The contrast in the presence of characters along the storyline makes it feel like you're watching two different movies – one being an adult romantic film, the other a family-friendly one.

I couldn't bear to watch any more. With about a third of the movie remaining, I turned off the screen. I even considered making my friend, who recommended this film, pay for my dinner as punishment. This mediocre movie has already wasted over an hour of my life.

Second Viewing: Turning Defects into Advantages

My friend didn’t pay for my treat. Instead, he left me with a sentence that completely changed my perspective on the film after hearing my complaints.

"Put yourself in the shoes of one with avoidant personality and it won’t be a problem to understand the male lead. You’ll see why it’s a good film. " he said.

Avoidant personality, also known as "avoidant personality disorder," refers to a psychological trait in which an individual experiences extreme discomfort or fear in social and interpersonal interactions. Consequently, they tend to avoid social situations and forming close relationships. People with this personality type often lack self-confidence, worry about being rejected or criticized, and frequently avoid establishing deep connections with others, which can lead to limitations in their social life.

It hits me that the main character of the movie, who is a writer, displays clear signs of avoidant personality. Upon re-watching the film with this in mind, everything fell into place. All what I previously viewed as negatives now appeared as positives!

For instance, during his wife's funeral in the movie, the writer does not shed any tears despite the cries of those around him. At first, I thought he is callous, but now I realize that he is consumed by self-blame. He can’t take it that at the time of the accident, he was engaged in sex with his lover on his wife's bed. An average person might cry in such a situation, but he is an avoidant personality, always seeking to avoid and escape his emotions.

The middle of the film is the depiction of the protagonist's attempt to escape, reflecting his avoidant tendencies. He leaves behind his past life, parts ways with his lover, severs connections with old friends, and tries to establish a connection with a stranger (the husband of his wife's deceased friend). He even shifts his focus to caring for two unfamiliar children (the children of that stranger). Therefore, the characters from the beginning of the film fade away, replaced by new ones around the protagonist.

He may seem irrational leaving behind his unresolved mess to meddle in others' life, which is actually typical reactions of avoidant personality - he believes his past self is ruined beyond salvage and must embrace a new life to find a sense of purpose.

Thus I’m able to continue watching where I gave up during my first viewing. ’All what I viewed as boring turned out so captivating that I ended up watching it straight through until the end.

As the story progresses, the writer develops strong emotion bond with the two children. However, it is clear that they are not his own. When the children's father meets a new girlfriend and tells the writer that they will be moving on, the writer knows that this is inevitable. He must return to his original life and face his own miserable past.

Due to his avoidance tendencies, he expresses upset by saying, "You truly seem like a family now, let's not stay in touch anymore!" Once again, , he flees from his established life, though the children and their father genuinely like him.

When the tragedy is about to repeat itself, the father rescues the writer from falling into the abyss, resolving his inner conflict. This is similar to how my friend's words changed my perspective on the film.

The father of the children tells the writer, "I've heard my children say, 'Why didn't it happen to me instead of mom? I'd think the same because I'm so much worse than her.'" The children’s words are harsh but honest. They aren't bad people, and they do love their father. It's just the dark thoughts that can arise in life. Faced with the father's honesty, the writer finally opens up about his own past.

“I was in my wife's bed with someone else when the accident happened, my wife's death might be a punishment for me.”

It's easy for people to say many beautiful words and present themselves as perfect individuals, especially in public settings. However, it’s quite hard to expose the negative and pessimistic thoughts. They remain buried in the heart, gradually becoming knots that are hard to untangle.

Yet in the conclusion of the film, the writer confronts his weaknesses and imperfections by confessing himself. Through this, he discovers a new meaning in life.

I’m deeply impressed by the film’s nuanced portrayal of these unspoken emotions deep within a person's heart, a style that is unique to Japan filmmakers. This is truly a wonderful movie!

Follow me for more discussions and discoveries of great films!

Most popular

No comments yet,

be the first one to comment!