Here is an unusual love story. Misako is a film interpreter, who writes a visual description for visually impaired moviegoers. Masaya is a famous photographer whose sight has almost completely deteriorated.
She is an artist, he is a critic. When their personalities collide something special is born.
The director Naomi Kawase has excelled at making documentaries, and her latest film RADIANCE, whilst being fiction, has adopted the documentary style. The ever shaking camera struggles to find focus, but it is a perfect approach to the story about visually impaired people. By the end of the film you get a little taste of what it’s like to not be able to see the world clearly or even see it at all.
The story is slow and the dialogue is minimalistic, apart from the scenes where the visually impaired viewers criticize Misako’s work, and when she and Masaya go head to head over scene interpretations. The romantic plot unfolds naturally and the chemistry between the characters, while fragile, is genuine. Their raw and vulnerable relationship is what holds the film together.
Kawase has created an interesting movie that celebrates endings rather than beginnings. Just like the characters of the movie struggle to find the right words to describe a scene, the director is searching for the meaning of loss, delivering her message in one word in a near perfect finale.
RADIANCE is a Japanese film, therefore is slow to unfold. Add the unusual visual style – and it can test the patience of an unprepared viewer. There are also multiple subplots (one of them includes Misako’s dementia suffering mother) that never find a proper resolution. The film could have benefitted from a tighter storytelling, but the end result is a somewhat dreamy exploration of life and love and the beauty of all things that are bound to end.