Impossible to Imagine
10 Jun 2022
Yukiko Ito, William Yagi, Kazuya Moriyama
In what is a distinctly modern piece of Japanese indie cinema, Impossible to Imagine explores gender roles, class divide and romance with a traditional tint – resulting in an emotionally moving yet at times stunted drama feature.
A young woman living in Kyoto, Yuki (Yukiko Ito) is desperately trying to save her business – her family’s kimono shop that is running into financial troubles. An entrepreneur Hayato (William Yagi) comes across the shop and offers his help. The pair develop a romance, and fall in love. But Hayato’s desire to find his place in the world begins to grind against Yuki’s wish to carry on her family legacy. The pair begin to wonder if the happiness they have found originates from the right place.
Impossible to Imagine is something of a modern Japanese fairy tale – presenting the story of a romance, and its two participants representing two sides of contemporary Japanese culture: one which values tradition, family and status quo, the other which seeks modernisation, internationalism and ambition. These themes are presented alternatively throughout the film as competing and co-operating through the lens of Yuki and Hayato’s relationship – a clever method of presenting the difficult balance required to celebrate heritage whilst building a better world.
Hayato’s biracial background is similarly a key element to his character. His inner divide stemming from Japanese and Australian heritage results in his desire to reach out to a wider world, and explore new horizons – in contrast to Yuki’s deep-set roots in her hometown. The story also presents Hayato’s difficulties in fitting in with Japanese society due to his heritage. Whilst this is not the primary theme of the film, and is handled with a soft touch, it shows an impressive awareness and ability on behalf of director Felicity Tillack to address serious and significant political and societal issues with sensitivity and respect.
Yukiko Ito and William Yagi share a meaningful chemistry that grows alongside their budding romance. The pair’s differences intermingle and spiral as they become more immersed in each other’s lives, with anticipation built in audiences as to whether opposites will attract or implode. The performances are understated and contemplative – particularly Ito’s – allowing viewers to submerge gently into the events unfolding. Whilst lacking the burning passion many Western viewers will be used to from romance/drama films, it fits the Japanese stylings perfectly.
The film’s lower budget means there are some rough edges production-wise. Image quality is not as immersive as it could be and is somewhat unimaginative with angles and shots. Long conversational scenes sometimes drag even allowing for the film’s slower pace. And repetitive music cues become grating after a while – despite the sound of the Shakuhachi being one of life’s most soothing. These are largely minor issues but they become more noticeable as the film continues.
Impossible to Imagine’s slower pace won’t be for every viewer, and it’s focus on contemporary Japanese issues will be lost for some. But as a classic love story that slowly and naturally unfurls, it never goes far astray.