Impossible To Imagine (2019)

The notion of progress grating against tradition is at the heart of writer/director Felicity Tillack’s debut feature film, Impossible To Imagine.

It’s a gentle film, with a bittersweet undercurrent, that carefully crafts a love story about two complete opposites, Ami, played with a quiet tenderness and longing by Yukiko Ito , and Hayato, a charismatic, well-judged turn from William Yagi.

Ami runs her family’s kimono shop, in a working class area of Kyoto, where she also lives with her father (Kazuya Moriyama.) It’s a neighbourhood on the verge of being forgotten (even the school is closed) and you get the sense that time has stood still for this family, since the departure of the mother. Time is a factor in every element of life here. From the pace of the traditional tea ceremony, to the lack of business that threatens to see the family shop closed down, Ami finds herself forced to make choices in order to keep a roof over their heads.

One of these choices involves the assistance of Hayato, a young, hungry business advisor, who specialises in injecting a little vigour and relevance into local businesses, modernising and contextualising not just Ami’s shop, but potentially her outlook on life. These are the seeds from which the majority of the film’s real dramatic power lie, the constant back and forth between the two characters as much a meet cute as they are a battle between old and new.

Tillack, along with her producer Hamish Downie, is an Australian film maker, and her eye for the details of the culture she is immersed in, shines through. Clearly more than just a tourists view of a country, she explores the emotional side of the character’s world, crafting a film of contrasts and juxtapositions, from the minutiae of Japanese culture, rooted in tradition, to the changes of so-called progress. 

There is also a refreshing sense of place to how Tillack (who acted as her own cinematographer, as well as editor) shoots locations, giving us, rather than simply picture postcard imagery, the back alleys, yards and doorways of neighbourhoods where real people live.

This sense of place is part of what the narrative is getting at. For Ami, tradition goes further than merely allowing her business to thrive. It’s about the ghosts of her past, a longing and yearning for youth, for family and for community. Hayato, on the other hand, is the digital to her analogue, a man fully aware that the world is speeding up, and both characters find themselves torn between keeping up and letting go, not just in terms of culture, but in terms of a potential future together.

The performances are charming, although the real praise must go to Kazuya Moriyama, who plays Ami’s father, and whose character has a third act confession that is quietly heart-breaking. In many ways, Moriyama’s character is the touchstone for the film’s story, a man who finds himself obsolete, disconnected, the notion of western culture treating tradition like a pick and mix, all aesthetics and no understanding, is a powerful one

Structured around the seasons, the film’s pace is deliberatey gentle, as much in step with Ami’s way of life as it is with the surroundings. There are bursts of colour here too, not just visually, but audibly, with a gorgeous score by Hanako Ward and Jeremy Lim, that builds on Japanese themes, creating as much a reflection of the characters as it does a sound scape.

Warm, but with important points to make about tolerance, progress and modern relationships fighting against old fashioned values, Impossible To Imagine is a well made debut from talented film makers, who have clearly utilised every cent of their small budget.

Talk about impossible.

Imagine what they’ll do next.

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