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Review: The Night I Swam

Children have a habit of getting into mischief, and certainly the child protagonist of Takara, la nuit où j’ai nagé (The Night I Swam) is a mischievous character who is one of those children you have to watch like a hawk. The film is a collaboration by two directors, one is a French director (Damien Manivel, the director of A Young Poet and The Park) and the other is Japanese (Kohei Igarashi, who directed Hold Your Breath Like a Lover).

The Night I Swam

The result of this unusual partnership is a charming little film full of life and spirit. The film is completed dialogue free, but words are not required to tell this simple but heartwarming story of courage, innocence and love. It is a film which manages to capture the essence of childhood, and how the world looks through the gaze of a child, there is a sense of excitement, awe and wonder in things that adults would normally dismiss as mundane, and the end result is that we are reminded that the world needs to be explored through new eyes.

The film is told in three chapters. The first chapter is entitled “The Drawing” and we open to the shots of a frozen, snowy landscape in the mountains of Japan. A man is getting ready for work at the crack of dawn, and his son (Takara Kogawa) hears his father in the kitchen while the rest of the household remains fast asleep. The young boy hears his father’s car pull out his father works in a fish market in a nearby town). Being wide awake the little boy decides to walks around the sleeping house trying to wake his mother, eating snacks and playing with his toys. He then makes a drawing of fish before going back to sleep, it’s a drawing he is immensely proud of and he slips it into his school bag as his mother dresses him, and then sets off alone toward school on roads covered in inches of snow. This is when he goes off the beaten track and plays in the snow, losing a glove on the way, walking alongside a wide river. At first it seems that the little boy is just having fun in the snow, but his intentions are made clear when he makes his way to an unmanned train station and boards a train. He wants to visit his father at work and show off his drawing.

Arriving in the big city, he wanders the streets for a long time, barking at some dogs, wandering into a department store and playing some video games. Before he spots a truck from the fish market that he tries to follow, and finally ends up at his father’s workplace. But the place is deserted: The working day is over.

Exhausted, with the  snow coming down heavily again, the boy takes shelter in a car that has been left unlocked and goes to sleep once again. This second chapter is entitled “The Fish Market” and is followed by a third and final chapter called “A Long Tunnel” which will reveal whether this little boy is reunited with his family and whether or not he will get a chance to show his father his drawing. The film is shot in academy ratio and as a result it feels timeless, this tale could exist at any point of history, it seems to transcend time altogether making it an instant classic. The use of ambient sound and Antonio Vivaldi’s Spring from The Four Seasons, creates this dreamlike atmosphere to the film. There are very funny, laugh out loud moments which help make the film seem real despite the dream-like quality. However, it is the central performance from Takara Kogawa which is really the most noteworthy aspect of the film, and he is so comedic, honest and real in his performance that it is an absolute delight to watch him on screen. The film is now streaming on Mubi and I would highly recommend watching it, as it’s a feel good, charming little film which will put a smile on your face.

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