‘All the Long Nights’ Review: Two Chipped Souls Fall in Like with Each Other in a Tender Story of Redemptive Connection

Nobody is broken in Shô Miyake’s films; nobody is quite beyond repair. But over the course of his last few features, the Japanese director has centered characters who are at at least mildly sprained, and trying hard to get by on hope and a homemade splint. In his previous movie, “Small Slow But Steady” — a title that incidentally could be a manifesto for Miyake’s soft, low-key style — a deaf female amateur boxer battled self-doubt and the looming closure of her beloved gym. And his new film, “All the Long Nights” offers a similar kind of balm, this time focusing on a young woman whose major challenge comes from debilitating PMS. It’s an affliction rarely described with this much compassion, when it is mentioned at all outside its regular context as the lazy punchline to a thousand sexist jokes.

Here it is treated with a sensitivity that does not preclude a little wry humor. It is hard to avoid some comic absurdity when once a month, Misa (Mone Kamishiraishi), a sunny-natured twentysomething with a plaintive Pierrot face, experiences erratic personality swings that see her lash out verbally at surprised co-workers, and make her prone to napping in inappropriate places. After a few such incidents and their attendant, mortified apologies, and following yet another fruitless doctor’s visit, Misa decides to leave her job. Her outbursts are never violent or dangerous, but in a Japanese corporate culture defined by deference, hierarchy and politeness, even the mildest lapse makes her a liability – at least in her own eyes.

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Five years later, a similar challenge faces Takatoshi (Hokuto Matsumura), a handsome if surly young man whose unpredictable panic attacks have forced him to park his high-flying career aspirations and take a far less impressive job at a company that makes science and astronomy kits for children. He sits next to Misa, who now works there too; the pair are by some distance the youngest amid the lifers of this cluttered, friendly but rather shabby office. When Misa buys breaktime treats for her colleagues, Takatoshi is the only one who doesn’t squee with delight. As he later tells a friend, he has nothing but disdain for the kind of unambitious people who would choose to work in a humdrum place like this, buying each other cakes and chit-chatting amiably as the weeks turn into years.

Returning DP Yuta Tsukinaga again shoots on film and as he did with “Small Slow but Steady,” makes unglamorous suburban locations unobtrusively responsive to and reflective of the mental states of the characters. As the relationship between Misa and Takatoshi thaws and then warms when they realize the interlocking benefits of each looking out for the other on their bad days, so does the portrayal of these rarely considered environments. The idea that a no-nonsense place of business — be it a boxing gym or an educational toy company — can be a site of healing and companionship itself feels gently subversive of our more usual ideas about the Japanese workplace. But Kiyoto Wada and Shô Miyake’s screenplay, which is based on a novel by Maiko Seo, reminds us that spaces are only as good or bad as the people who occupy them.

Here, the benevolent atmosphere of the office flows from the top. Everyone at Misa’s company is beautifully drawn even if only in brief outline, but none more so than her boss Kurita (Ken Mitsuishi), who we discover is grieving the loss of his beloved brother, and has taken on Takatoshi as a favor to a friend he met at group therapy. Everyone has their own set of challenges and Kurita’s habit of quietly helping out where he can is a kind of heroism all the more moving for coming in a clip-on-tie rather than a cape.

But then, “All the Long Nights” is steadfast in its refusal to villanize anyone or anything, except that stubborn little voice that lives inside your head and delights in insisting you’re not good enough. MIsa’s mother is doting and supportive. Even Takatoshi’s girlfriend Chihiro (Haruka Imô) with her model good looks and seemingly effortless career successes, is given a few scenes it show her concern for Takatpshi is genuine, and her gratitude to Misa is real. This is especially notable because there is a bad, Hollywoodized way this story could have been told, dripping with “Pay it Forward” schmaltz, leaning too hard on the metaphor of the cosmos (Misa and Taktoshi bond over a planetarium show the company is mounting) and unable to resist the urge to have the pair fall in love. Relationships do not need to be romantic, or dramatic, even particularly long-lasting to be life-changing. Especially for the people in Shô Miyake’s charming movies, who might not be broken, but that’s not to say they can’t be fixed.

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