Writer: Sakura Higa

Director: Hirokazu Kore-eda

Despite its name, The London Film Festival has often been the place to see a new television series, screening a couple of or sometimes all the episodes back-to-back, with previous screenings including Sky’s Doll and Em and the BBC’s Little Drummer Girl. Now Hirokazu Kore-eda premieres Episode One of his sitcom-drama A Day Off of Kasumi Arimura which extends the director’s interest in testing family dynamics.

With art imitating life, Japanese TV and film star Kasumi Arimura plays a version of herself as an actress unexpectedly given a day off when a co-star catches the flu and decides to head home to visit her mother. Exasperated by Yumiko’s fussing and embarrassed to be shown off in the supermarket, Arimura soon learns that life at home has moved on without her when a stranger drops-by without warning.

The first of eight episodes Kore-eda’s 42-minute show sets-up a rather conventional scenario in which a slightly over-protective mother remains entirely unphased by her daughter’s celebrity, instantly questioning everything from her marital status to her New Year’s absence and her decision to take the train rather than fly. It is a recognisable mother-daughter dynamic, and one that Arimura and co-star Jun Fubuki generate effortlessly.

Kore-eda and writer Sakura Higa are interested, at least in Episode One entitled At My Home, in the rituals of domestic life and the activities that are intuitively shared within the family unit such as preparing meals, forms of worship and the birthdays, anniversaries and national celebration days that anchor ordinary life by bringing people together. Here it is the absence of Arimura’s attention to the latter that has created a distance with her mother that this story broaches.

Although told from Armiura’s perspective, it is certainly interesting that back in her hometown it is Yumiko’s life that moves into the spotlight and not Kasumi’s, as the prodigal daughter discovers connections with a local supermarket manager and a much deeper relationship with the gentleman caller that unnerve her. Higa also throws in a couple of potential story points for future development as Kasumi seeks solace back in her real life where another major revelation awaits her.

Yet, the tone of A Day Off of Kasumi Arimura is not quite clear, the jaunty title sequence that looks to American teen comedies of the early 1990s sits strangely with the serious dramatic tone that takes up much of this first episode and the ponderous rom-com music overlaying the scenes in which mother and daughter make their way home.

If the story remains as a domestic two-hander how it can develop from this first glimpse and sustain a further seven episodes with over five hours of screen time is unclear. Yet, Higa and Kore-eda have done enough to build two potentially interesting characters, so just where this series can go from here remains to be seen.

 The BFI London Film Festival runs from 7 to 18 October

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