Isao Yukisada (Parade, Women Play Twice) may not be amongst the most famous of Japanese directors, quality-wise he's easily one of the most consistent ones I know. His output ranges from good to great, never truly peaking but never failing either. A Day On The Planet is one of his better films so far and should appeal to everyone with a soft spot for Japanese dramas (at least the feature length kind, not the TV kind).
A Day On The Planet finds Yukisada in familiar territory. It's another ensemble film without a real protagonist, instead the film focuses on a group of young friends who come together one night to hang out and celebrate. As an audience we are inclined to cling ourselves to the first group of characters that's introduced, but Yukisada moves between the different characters without any real preference, skipping between backgrounds and events and focusing on the group dynamic without alienating us from the individuals.
Each character gets a prolonged sequence to shine, on top of that there are two tangibly related story lines that help in gluing everything together. While there is enough personal drama tucked away in A Day On The Planet, there isn't anything in particular that propels the story forward, there is no real climax and the emotional payoff comes in bite-size chunks rather than a big sprawling finale. It's a real slice-of-life kinda film, low on actual drama but still beautiful and captivating in all its mundane glory.
On a visual level it's a very decent yet safe and predictable film. If you've seen a couple of Japanese dramas you'll know what to expect. The camera remains close to the actors and remains mobile at all times without ever falling into the Dogme trap. The beach scenes are beautiful (the shots with the whale are impressive), inside scenes tend to be a bit darker and murkier. Overall the film has a pleasant look but it never intrudes on the drama, nor does it demand too much of the viewer's attention.
The score suffers the same critique. While it's nice and fitting, it's far from original. It's understandable considering Yukisada's intentions, when making a humanistic slice-of-life drama there isn't much need for overly expressive styling, be it visual or through the music. Still, I feel that there's more that could've been done within these limitations, a bit more attention to the score wouldn't have hurt the film.
Acting on the other hand is all around great. Tanaka and Tsumabuki make for a great screen couple, the others are all very natural and believable too. Yukisada is typically great with his actors, drawing very life-like and likable performances from his cast. There's also a small role for Eihi Shiina, though she's completely unrecognizable from her role in Miike's Audition. I must say that I didn't even physically recognize her when I watched the film.
A Day On The Planet is a film for those who like to spend some time with a mixed set of characters. People come and go while the focus of the film is continuously shifting between different characters. There is no real drama, just minor, human troubles (the type that makes up what is the bigger part of our own lives). Unfinished personal projects, girlfriend issues and small setbacks are amongst the most dramatic events featured in this film. It's not for everybody, but if you like this kind of thing then A Day On The Planet is a very worthwhile experience.
It's not always easy tracking down Yukisada's films, but for fans of this type of films it's definitely worth the trouble. A Day On The Planet deliver a lovely two hours of escapism, allowing you to be a fly on the wall of a group of Japanese teens who have an enjoyable night out. There's nothing spectacular going on, but that's exactly what makes this film so wonderful. Looking at Yukisada's oeuvre I think it's fair to say that a big international career is probably out of the question, but he should be able to garner a loving fanbase nonetheless, warranted by the dramatic purity and quality of his films.