Drama Review: A Day-Off of Kasumi Arimura – Episode 1 (2020) by Hirokazu Koreeda

A rare chance to see a small screen work from Palme d’Or-winning (and not only) director Hirokazu Koreeda is available this year at the BFI London Film Festival, with a teaser episode of the drama series “A Day-Off of Kasumi Arimura” (Arimura Kasumi No Satsuky). The 8-episode drama was released in Japan at the beginning of 2020 on WOW WOW Channel and it features Kasumi Arimura, a busy and popular actress both in the script and in real life, although the narration is completely fictional. Director Koreeda has directed episode 1 and 3 of the series, while other episodes have different directors (Rikiya Imaizumi, Santa Yamagishi, Satoko Yokohama and Megumi Tsuno).

A Day-Off of Kasumi Arimura” is screening at the BFI London Film Festival

It’s the onset of winter and seasonal cold is spreading; one of Kasumi’s fellow members of the cast is sick and the next day shooting is cancelled at the last minute. Kasumi has an unexpected day off then, and an idea; what better occasion to go visit her mum? She lives just a brief train ride away and it’s a beautiful, bright cold day. Her mother Yumiko (Jun Fubuki) comes to the train station to pick her up, delighted to see her as her busy acting schedule rarely accommodates a visit. On the way to the family home, they stop for food shopping and Kasumi is introduced to the shop manager, a jolly man, very friendly with Yumiko. Once at home, they chit-chat preparing lunch together, when a young man rings the doorbell. He is Makoto (Shinnosuke Mitsushima), the son of Kasumi’s late father, from his previous marriage. Kasumi is rather shocked, not only because it’s the first time she meets her half-brother but also because she can’t help noticing how sweet and almost maternal is Yumiko with Makoto. To add to her discomfort, she makes a mysterious phone call and someone unexpected answers her call, unveiling a possible deception.

Despite having an aesthetic and a pace adequate to the television medium, some of the trademarks of the director are here in plain sight. Family dynamics are at the heart of many of Koreeda’s films and “A Day-Off of Kasumi Arimura” is no exception; it is an intimate and detail-rich domestic drama with mellow tones and gentle emotions. Kasumi realises her mum has a life on her own – and an active one – and it hurts a bit, but it is a storm in a teacup and reconciliation will follow. Little comedy is dotted here and there intertwining and sweetening the drama. Food preparation, another ubiquitous trope in Koreeda’s works, is an occasion for family discussions, laughter, memories. Here Kasumi and Yumiko prepare together some braised stuffed cabbage leaves, a dish very dear to the late father/husband that becomes almost a character on its own right in the episode, a sort of substitute for the missing man.

On the other hand, none of his social realist themes seems to have found a collocation here. This is truly a mainstream, light entertainment TV product; nevertheless, the material is on the hands of a great director and it shows. This episode is written by Sakura Higa but there is a long list of scriptwriters in the credits, so probably other episodes have different writers. The photography is warm and television-friendly, and the sparse score is only a few indie/folk guitar strings and a final voice & guitar song; very simple and very appropriate.

This little taste of the series is quite promising. Despite the slow pace – almost in real-time for long stretches – it has the numbers for resonating with a large audience, mainly due to Koreeda’s skilful orchestration of family interactions and emotions. Not much seems to happen (actually it does), but it all feels in the flow of everyday life; it sucks you in gently and you want to have more. According to the trailer and the long list of actors in the cast (including Lily Franky), we can guess she will meet different characters in every episode and in each one she will have a different adventure over an unplanned day off, maybe keeping the family plot simmering on the background.

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