The process of grief is put through both a comedic and slightly surreal lens in Daigo Matsui’s new feature film, with mixed results. When Remain in Twilight hits the right note, it positively sings. When it fails, it fails tediously and hard.
Six high school friends reunite to celebrate a wedding, and to perform for the bride and groom a ridiculous dancing skit that they conceived as teenager. One of the six, however, is not supposed to be there, since he has been dead for five years.
Daigo Matsui has been one of Japan’s more successful new directors over the past decade, making his directorial debut on a 2012 adaptation of manga Afro Tanaka. Since then he has directed several youth-oriented manga adaptations and teen films, including Our Huff and Puff Journey, Wonderful World End (both 2014), Japanese Girls Never Die (2016), and You Your Yours (2018). Remain in Twilight takes his traditional lead characters are shifts them from adolescence and into adulthood – albeit with a large amount of flashbacks to their teenage years. The film, reportedly based on Matsui’s own experience, was originally a hit play.
The film’s theatrical origins, once known, are evidently clear when viewing it. It focuses on a very small, tight-knit cast, and shiftly very fluidly from past to present and back again. There is an element of magical realism present that makes physical what would otherwise be an internal process – to the five surviving friends the sixth is still present in their minds and hearts. Their grief is personified and ever-present. These factors, which would likely work sensationally on the stage, do not quite succeed on the screen. Film is a sharply realist medium compared to theatre, and as such there is an awkwardness about the shifting timeline and the deceased-but-present friend. While no text is impossible to adapt to cinema, some are clearly more difficult than others. Some sort of translation process to replace techniques tailored for theatre with equivalents for film was needed here, and it does not feel as if Matsui tried too hard to do that. The result is a first act that tests the patience a little, a second act that shifts into a much stronger creative gear, and a third that pushes a little too far and winds up feeling rather silly.
Ryo Narita is an appealing lead with a nice emotional centre to him. His supporting cast are decent too – Ryuya Wakaba, Kenta Hamano, Kisetsu Fuijwara, Rikki Metsugi,and Kengo Kora – each of whom gets a distinctive personality and their individual moment to shine. There is a strong, vibrant energy that sparkles between them. Again, however, it all feels better suited to the stage than a film. In person there would be an electric connection between performers and spectators. In a film, one step removed and significantly more realistic, it does occasionally descend to a group of men loudly shouting at one another.
Remain in Twilight is a faulty film, but at the same time Matsui should be commended for experimenting a little with style and form. This is the work of a more sophisticated director than the one who helmed his earlier teen pictures. It bodes well for future works, and perhaps a more successful application of what he has attempted here.
Remain in Twilight is streaming on demand as part of the 2021 Fantasia International Film Festival. For Canadian readers, the festival takes place in person and online from 5-25 August. For more information, click here.