Film Review: ‘They Say Nothing Stays The Same’ Shows How a Simple Story Can Hide Complex Messages6 min readReading Time: 5 minutes
There is a mountain village where a bridge is being built. Toichi (Akira Emoto) is a boatman. He ferries people on his rowboat between the village and a nearby town. One ordinary day, a girl (Ririka Kawashima) appears in front of him. Since then, his life begins to change.
Director: Joe Odagiri
Cast: Akira Emoto, Ririka Kawashima, Nijiro Murakami
Runtime: 137 minutes
They Say Nothing Stays The Same is a 2019 Japanese film about a ferryman’s struggle with the changing times. Toichi (Akira Emoto), spends his days ferrying townspeople and his fellow villagers across the water that separates them. It is his way of life and all he knows. However, this is threatened by a bridge being built to connect the two places, making him inconsequential.
Like the title suggests, this is a story about the struggle of an old man to stay relevant in the changing times. They Say Nothing Stays The Same shows how easily we are willing to forgo what used to be integral parts of our lives just for convenience. Toichi ferries the village folk at no cost, doing out of kindness and yet they villagers are all too keen to see the bridge be finished. As Toichi ferries them, they pay no mind to him, oblivious to his struggle as they constantly talk about all the good the new bridge brings.
Visually, the film is captivating but it also acts as a visual metaphor for the film. It paints an image of pre-industrial Japan — of gorgeous landscapes and tranquil nature. It shows us a time unsullied by industrialisation, where nature has free reign. It is dazzling. It makes us nostalgic for a time past when things were simpler and we were less for want.
The image of nature it creates is one so immersive, it isn’t difficult to get lost in the marvel of it all. The sound design is hypnotising in the quiet moments as the sounds of nature surround you. With every bird’s calls and every cricket’s stridulation, paired with the peaceful swash of the river, the film lets you lose yourself in nature. From that to the heatwave effect on a hot day, They Say Nothing Stays The Same begs to be felt, to put you into the shoes of Toichi.
The bridge, aside from representing industrial development, is a more personal symbol to Toichi. Toichi himself is an island, living apart from the villagers and townsfolk, he only interacts with them when they need to be ferried. He lives alone and spends his days apart from everyone else, without a bridge to connect him to others. The only company he gets is from Genzo (Nijiro Murakami), a village boy who treats Toichi with kindness. Genzo is the only one who outwardly expresses disdain for the bridge.
Despite Genzo being his only form of companionship, Toichi does not open up to him. Toichi is a man without bridges to connect him to others, his loneliness extends beyond that of the physical as no one truly knows who he is.
While he seems well adjusted to this, the imaginary sequences beg to differ, painting an image of Toichi that is far removed from the peaceful old man we see. In horrific sequences with blood and gore, we see that Toichi is a deeply tortured person and his loneliness only exacerbates his problems. He is unwilling to be tossed aside by the villagers he shows kindness to and is embittered by the fact that they would so easily turn their back on him.
The film shows us the deep struggle to stay positive in the face of adversity and how forced positivity can be toxic to one’s psyche. It is not until the Girl (Ririka Kawashima) enters his life that he truly begins to connect to another person, open up and release the bitterness bottled within. In doing so Toichi is no longer an island but has a bridge connecting him to her.
When the bridge is built, things play out exactly like you expect, with Toichi no longer being needed or visited by the villagers he used to call friends. Visually we can see the change as the villagers dress differently and begin to hurry about, no longer caring about nature. The film shows this development as a corrupting force as things change and relationships change.
Genzo is no longer kind to Toichi and begins to be a self-serving person, no longer the kind boy who was willing to share. They Say Nothing Stays The Same shows that change is inevitable and portrays human nature reduced to its basest instincts. The bridge didn’t change people; it became a conduit for people to show their selfishness.
Overall the film can be read in many ways — be it a love letter to nature, an anti-capitalist message or the story of an old man learning to open up. Yet all threads are tied together by its core theme and narrative that nothing stays the same. The film shows change, not only negatively but also positively. Change is something inevitable but the film shows us that it is not something to fear. While change may be uncomfortable, it can always lead to good, depending on how you yourself are willing to see it.
They Say Nothing Stays The Same is a film that demands to be watched and felt. Despite being a film that consists mainly of vignettes, the film strings them together masterfully to serve a strong core narrative. While such films are not my cup of tea, this particular film hit differently. It is the perfect balance of the mundane and the magical, it doesn’t get caught up in its message nor does it get forcefully preachy.
Instead, it leaves you room for your own interpretations while letting you immerse yourself in the stunning visuals. The film is easily one of my favourites now. A timeless, soon-to-be-classic.
They Say Nothing Stays The Same is included in this year’s lineup for the Japanese Film Festival. Catch it in theatres this Sunday — more information on the screening here.
About the Japanese Film Festival
This year’s Japanese Film Festival has adapted to the new normal with its hybrid edition presenting a mix of virtual screenings at Shaw KinoLounge and physical screenings at Shaw and The Projector. For more on its eclectic selection Japanese cinema’s finest, visit its website here. This year’s edition will conclude on 20 December so hurry and grab your tickets now!
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