In mid-1990s Japan, there is an emerging trend of products that focused on providing calm to their users, described with the term “iyashi” or “healing.” Ranging from artworks, poetry, magazine and books, aromatherapy, and many more, such “iyashi goods” promises relaxing mood or even therapeutic functions. The term iyashi-kei has even come to be used to describe certain persons whose presence give off a feel of ease and peacefulness to others. In his 2009 paper, Paul Roquet explains that those iyashi goods could promise relaxation because they offer a break from all other affective appeals that normally can be found in other contemporary Japanese media.
Such iyashi mood regulation can also be found in works of fiction. As cited by Roquet, literary critic Akio Nakamata has identified Haruki Murakami’s first novel Hear the Wind Sing (Kaze no uta o kike), released in 1979, as an early example of iyashi-kei literature (iyashi-kei shousetsu), which became a significant genre in the 1980s to 1990s. In the field of manga, Hitoshi Ashinano’s Yokohama Kaidashi Kikou (published in Indonesia by m&c! as Yokohama Shopping Blog), serialized in Japan from 1994, has also been described as iyashi-kei manga, largely focusing on providing a calming atmosphere instead of a story with dramatic tension (as discussed in this Pause and Select video). It has been adapted into OVAs which still share the same narrative philosophy.
That iyashi feel is what I have in mind when I saw A Story of Yonosuke, a feature film that was screened as a part of 2020 Japanese Film Festival Plus: Online, an online film festival held by Japan Foundation. First shown in 2013, A Story of Yonosuke tells the story of Yonosuke Yokomichi, an 18 year old boy from Nagasaki who moves to Tokyo to study in a university. As I will explain, the storytelling mode implemented by the film makes it easy to see this work as an example of iyashi-kei film. However, seeing the film’s setting in 1987 Japan and the traits of the film’s main character, it is interesting to extend the analysis of the film further by putting it in the bigger picture of the iyashi trend.
The Iyashi Storytelling of A Story of Yonosuke
In his paper, Roquet mentions some elements that are apparent in iyashi literature: transparent diction and sensory evocation, presentation of everyday space inhabited by the characters, and gradual release of tension in a safe manner. In iyashi literature, the text normally describes the environment in a detailed manner in the way the senses register it, but still in a way that evokes the feeling of ambiguity. The story progression is also presented in a way that evokes a sense of mystery (fushigi) while still feels safe. The dramatic moment is presented as something that can happen in our everyday life. This way, iyashi stories build their ambient space where “healing” could occur.
Those elements can be found in many parts of A Story of Yonosuke. The camera movements and editing are minimal, which lends the feeling of merely observing everyday life in the film. The music is also almost unnoticeable. Sound direction mostly focuses on imitating the sounds of our everyday objects, like the sound of the breezing wind, sea waves, or ambient crowd chatter. It seems like the director Okita avoids creating a dramatic scene and lets the viewers to just see the film as what it is.
What A story of Yonosuke doesn’t lack are character moments. There are only a few scenes where Yonosuke is alone; when a scene rolls, he usually has another person to talk to. A lot of talking scenes may make the film feels slow and unfocused; that’s understandable; yet there is something charming in it. It is pleasant to see films that capture character interactions in a natural manner. We just see the moment-to-moment of Yonosuke’s life, nothing else.
As a result, the film feels really sincere. A Story of Yonosuke, as a film, doesn’t try to manipulate viewers in any way. When a comedic moment comes, viewers can laugh not because of the film’s audiovisual cues, but because we want to. The modesty of the film is the source of its entertainment value.
Yonosuke himself could be seen as the embodiment of iyashi. He’s sincere, unprejudiced, and doesn’t try to manipulate others. When he laughs, he laughs, even when his friend doesn’t feel it is funny. When he falls in love, he falls in love, even when his love interest is a con artist. Yonosuke as a character is a fool who seems to be easy to be manipulated. But there is something in Yonosuke’s way of life that is attractive, something that can get viewers behind him as a protagonist.
Yet his eccentricities aside, Yonosuke also gives the impression of a normal person that you can see in everyday life. Yonosuke, for their friend, is a person who is just there. He occupies a space of their memory without any impressions. Yet when they actually remember him, they are struck with a sense of nostalgia.
The Nostalgia of Pre-90s Japan
The film’s setting in 1987 Japan also provides an interesting context to the film. First, we have to understand what happened in 90s Japan that influence the iyashi boom. Though, as Roquet noted, there has been precedents of mood regulation before, the 90s boom was notable because it came after two major disasters that struck Japan: the Great Hanshin earthquake and Aum Shinrikyo sarin gas attack of 1995. It was also the period when Japan’s economy stagnated after growing so fast in the previous decades (Also known as “Lost Decade”). This unstable condition led to feelings uncertainty in Japanese society, which created demand for iyashi goods.
This is why as a film, A Story of Yonosuke is interesting. The characters’ feeling of nostalgia for Yonosuke could be alluding to a nostalgia for pre-90s Japan. Yonosuke lived in 1987, the period where the Japanese still perceive the world with an optimistic view. All of Yonosuke’s friends see him in a positive light, even though he isn’t always doing something good. In a scene where Yonosuke is in a conflict with his girlfriend, the film chooses to only show the part where they make up, not the actual fight. From here, we get the impression that people only remember Yonosuke for his positive moments, while ignoring the moments where Yonosuke makes a negative impression.
With this point of view, A Story of Yonosuke becomes a relevant work in the whole iyashikei discussion. A Story of Yonosuke indirectly shows why iyashi work is relevant in modern Japan. The period setting and Yonosuke’s character show optimism, stability, and a lot of things that are missed from the 80s. The iyashi characteristics actually elevates the film because it shows how pre-90s Japan could provide nostalgia: by showing how even someone as sincere as Yonosuke could still live a secure life without worries.
In the end, I personally think A Story of Yonosuke is a great film. However, it is important to know what kind of film it is before you choose to watch it. This is not a film where the audience is taken to a ride through dramatic turning point to climatic resolution. In this film, the idea of climax doesn’t exist. This is a film where the characters just exist in a moment-to-moment situations. This is a film that tries to capture daily life for what it is; that tells the story of a somewhat foolish person whom you can’t help but to root for because he represents something that we’ve forgotten in this hard time.
This is A Story of Yonosuke.
Facts and Figures
|Alternate Title(s)||横道世之介 (Yokomichi Yonosuke)|
|Original Work||Adapted from Novel Yonosuke Yokomichi by Shuichi Yoshida|
|Cast||Kengo Kora as Yonosuke Yokomichi
Yuriko Yoshitaka as Shoko Yosano
Sōsuke Ikematsu as Ippei Kuramochi
Ayumi Itō as Chiharu
Gō Ayano as Katō
|Scenario||Shuichi Yoshida (Original works)
|Theme Song||Ima wo Ikite by Asian Kung-Fu Generation.|
|Running Time||160 minutes|
|Premiere Date||23 February 2013|
The Indonesian Anime Times | Review by Dany Muhammad