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All the Things We Never Said: The Permanence of Choice

November 3, 2020

Guest post by Dante Cosentino, student at New York University

Cicadas chirp in the summer breeze. I’m not sure why. A lizard crawls up a wall in the blue light of the early morning. You can almost smell the misty air, feel the dew on the grass. Perhaps it is protagonist Atsuhisa’s only memory of home, or maybe it’s the only one worth remembering. No matter how hard we try to make sense of our thoughts and hold on to our memories, they gradually fade and dissipate. All the Things We Never Said is about longing. Longing for a time we can’t return to. Desperate to express how we feel when our words matter most. Instead we sit dumbfounded, as though hollowed out from the inside, only finding the words when it’s too late. They probably only make sense in our head anyways. Atsuhisa and best friend Takeda want to be musicians, but this goal is going nowhere. Atsuhisa’s whole world is interrupted and the past uprooted when he comes home to his wife, Natsumi, cheating on him. All this time she felt unloved, spending years quietly suffering, unbeknownst to her husband. These people are constantly cut off. Cut off by each other, by the unpredictability of life, by a scene transition. They can hardly express themselves to one another, and even when they do the other doesn’t want to listen. “I’m crying on the inside, but on the outside no tears come out,” Atsuhisa laments, claiming his inability to cry is due to being Japanese. Is this a product of national trauma? A universal experience? Or are Atsuhisa and I just emotionally stunted cowards? Those actively cast to the side, the rejects given no voice, like Atsuhisa’s silent brother, seem even less understood. Yet somehow he expresses himself more than Atsuhisa is able to for the majority of the movie with nothing but an ironic thumbs up and a brick. When words fail, why does it feel as though our only option is to hurt others?

Blink and 6 months have passed, and then another. Atsuhisa and now ex-wife Natsumi’s worlds have been rocked, yet it’s somehow difficult to parse all that’s changed. All the Things We Never Said is about regret. Not only for that which we failed to say but for the opportunities we missed, the people we’ve hurt, and the dreams of a better future slipping out from our grasp. We want a train to whisk us back in time, back to our friends and frozen treats on a hot summer day. We only realize how many options and opportunities we had at our disposal now that they’re gone. We want a second chance, a redo. But Atsuhisa made his choice, and now the people who matter most have left him. Even if you replace the glass pane on the sliding door, the memory of what was shattered lingers all the same.

We are haunted by the people who have walked out of our lives, yet it’s as though our memories of the dead drift away with every passing moment. To Atsuhisa it’s as though they never even existed in the first place. “It’ll all fade away one day.” Even as I write this post I am pulling from but a fragmented memory of the film. Yet, for all the thoughts and ideas and images that grow dim, what remains are the profound emotional effects these memories, these experiences, these people have had on me. It’s not just Obon that keeps the spirits around.

I don’t presume to have the life experience of writer/director Yuya Ishii, but I know the feeling of resignation when our words seem futile. I know the pain of regret. From the smallest of errors to entire periods of my life I want to redo, I carry remorse with me always. The good memories have been tainted by the bad, and sometimes I wish I could undo ever meeting the people they’re attached to. Though I know this regret is part of the punishment in and of itself, still I fantasize about redirecting the path I had chosen when my opportunities were plentiful. I needed no explanation of how Atsuhisa, Natsumi, and Takeda, whom it’s clear loved Natsumi all along, were feeling over the course of the film. The dull pain of memory and regret is written all over their faces.

With its quietude and lingering All the Things We Never Said affords its characters and audience the time to imagine what might’ve been. Maybe if Atsuhisa had married Sachiko, maybe if Takeda had expressed his long since buried love to Natsumi when he had the chance, maybe that fantasy of a better life would be reality; maybe we wouldn’t all be so broken. Or maybe not. It can’t be changed either way. All we can do is try our best now. But the cicadas are chirping, and I still don’t know why.

Dante Cosentino is a Film/Cinema Studies student at NYU. You can read more of his ramblings about movies on his Letterboxd:

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