Moonless Dawn (暁闇) – Film Review

The Japanese film festival has kicked off and it’s an honour to have the opportunity to witness and review the work of some of Japan’s finest film directors. My first assignment brings me to Director Harika Abe’s creative piece, Moonless Dawn.

Moonless Dawn is a film that follows the troubling lives of three high school students; Kou (Yuzu Aoki) a once musician who went by the name of ‘LOWPOP LTD’, is now a deadbeat with no life direction, Yuko (Yuka Nakao) who uses random one night stands with strangers to help fill her inner emptiness, and Saki (Haruka Echigo) who is caught in a rocky relationship with her family and controlling father. It is through music that their lives are intertwined, and soon a new spark of purpose and direction is found.

Moonless Dawn has a strong sense of exploring each character and the environments that they have surrounded themselves in. The strong display of each character being heavily depressed and disconnected with no purpose, amplifies the overall vibe of emptiness, depression and longing for escape. This feeling really allows us to soak in more of the film and emotionally connect each character.

The use of LOWPOP LTD‘s music to bring the characters together was a brilliant way to mould and entwine their paths. It was also fascinating that Yuko and Saki used Kou‘s music as a way to escape. However, when Kou deletes his music platform, the girls don’t have access to the escape as they once did, and so seek him out to try and gain back the only thing that helped them to deal with life. Their journey of readjusting and finding a new view on life is what makes the narrative’s unfolding extremely engaging.

I found myself relating and connecting more with Saki rather than either Yuko or Kou, as she comes across as the one that’s dealing with more drama with her strained relationship with her family, her father and her emotional struggles. Haruka Echigo‘s performance really makes you feel sorry for her character. Yes, Yuko and Kou also have struggles, but they are shown affection of some sort, whereas Saki has a nagging father who tries to micro manage her life, making her feel worthless and unimportant.

What I found deeply odd about the film was that I had no idea what the names of the characters were. It wasn’t until somewhere near the fifteen minute mark that I learnt their names. However this is but a minor setback as Moonless Dawn had already effectively laid down some of its foundations for its story progression. So, by this point you kind of know a bit about each character before learning their names. Still odd though.

Although the narrative was mostly strong and consistent and there were some scenes that I felt like were quite necessary, such ‘breaking point’ scenes where a character is shown hitting rock bottom, and then realising their true purpose. Unfortunately, the execution for these pivotal scenes in the film are weak and felt a bit rushed. I felt I was introduced to the conclusion of Moonless Dawn far too quickly, which felt somewhat unsatisfying.  

The conclusion of the film, in my opinion, could have been expanded more and the chemistry between the three characters as well, could have been more developed. Even the supporting characters could have been explored more and many seemed to have remained the same and not changed at all by the end of the film. I personally would have liked to have seen more character growth with Kou’s father.

For a film themed around music, it also would have also been nice to have heard a bit of LOWPOP LTD‘s music so that we could at least hear and understand for ourselves why it gave Yuko and Saki such a sense of escapism.

On a high note, I really enjoyed the performance from Yuzu Aoki, Yuka Nakao and Haruka Echigo, as they were able to present their characters convincingly and naturally. The emotional awkwardness and disconnect was brilliantly produced, felt genuine and just following their convincingly bland characters’ lives brilliantly shaped the overall vibe of the movie.

Moonless Dawn is an interesting Japanese film to partake in and witness the transition from living through your darkest hour to finding your way and moving forward towards making the right choice into living a better life.

Moonless Dawn is part of the 2019 Japanese Film Festival.
For more information visit: https://japanesefilmfestival.net

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