REVIEW: Good-bye (2020)

Sakura (Mayuko Fukuda) lives with her mother in suburban Japan. Having recently quit an unsatisfying job, she makes a temporary living filling in at a local nursery school. After making a connection with one of the students, she then meets the girl’s father Shindo – who bears an uncanny familiarity to her own largely absent father.

It feels an awful condemnation of director Aya Miyazaki’s film Good-bye to state that it means well. Nobody – particularly anyone involved in making an independent feature – goes into film production planning to make something weak or unsatisfying. The best of intentions are always going to be matched by a desperate urge to connect with audiences, tell an interesting story, and make a contribution to the screen arts. To Miyazaki’s credit, you can see that enthusiasm on screen – sadly it fails to eventuate as a particularly watchable film.

For one thing it does not tell a very interesting story. For much of its length the narrative drags, pulling its audience along on a relatively featureless journey, emotionally speaking. By the time the story sparks into life towards the end, it feels very much a case of ‘too little, too late’. Its length seems a potential problem – at just 66 minutes in length, Good-bye is too involved to work as a short but too slight to work as a full feature. It winds up awkwardly stuck in an unsatisfying middle.

Technically the film seems hamstrung by a particularly rough sound edit. Ambient background noise constantly echoes, and changes sharply on a shot-to-shot basis. Poor sound technique is the death knell of narrative cinema, immediately signalling to an audience that the story is fake. It shatters suspension of disbelief, yet for some reason is the most common technical flaw in first-time and independent features. To an extent that is understandable: sound is extraordinarily difficult to develop, and is perversely more subtle yet more necessary that anything done on a visual basis. A film can look as basic as a handheld home video and its narrative can work. A film can sound just slightly off, and the entire house of cards will collapse under its weight.

There is promise in the film’s cast, led by star Mayuko Fukuda as Sakura, and despite irrevocable flaws in this case there is promise to Miyazaki as a director. Good-bye feels very much like an accomplished student work: made by talent-in-training, ambitious in execution, and simply produced at too early a stage to deserve a wide audience.

Good-Bye recently screened at the 2020 Osaka Asian Film Festival.

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