A man gets a call on his way to a job. His father is on his deathbed. | Father Seriously Ill

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Father Seriously Ill is used with permission from Naoki Kobayashi. Learn more at https://filmfreeway.com/naokikobayashi.

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Ryota Hayakawa is a private investigator and freelancer for assorted jobs and gigs, always on the go and hustling for the next opportunity. He’s on the phone walking back to his apartment to sleep, when he gets a call pulling him back to an office for another job. But before he heads back to work, he gets a phone call from his estranged brother, Taichi, who has news: their father is on his deathbed.

Ryota hasn’t talked to his family in a decade and a half, having broken off relations as the family’s "black sheep." His brother entreats him to come to see his father before his passing, but Ryota is unwilling. As Ryota walks along, talking with his brother, an entire lifetime of grievances and conflicts plays out, finally coming out into the open at the last possible chance of reconciliation.

Directed and written by Naoki Kobayashi, this short family drama is essentially a man talking on a phone as he walks along a path alongside a river, dealing with a life-changing event. Shot in a single continuous shot, the storytelling flows with the writing, which packs in rich emotional detail, background information and character moments. What emerges is a portrait of a man whose past comes rushing back at him and a broken family whose fissures may never be repaired.

The single continuous shot of the action is the most prominent visual aspect of the film, tracking along as Ryota takes a series of phone calls on his way to an office. The first sets up the particulars of his current life, with work that seems a little haphazard, or even shady at best. But the most important call is from his brother, who has difficult news. But even in the face of it, Ryota refuses his brother’s request to come right away to see his father. From his perspective, it’s not just that too much has happened, but too little has been said or listened to, and the writing’s gift is how it evokes a lifetime’s worth of conflict and resentment in its runtime. By not cutting away and letting the call play out in real time, viewers too take in the discomfiting seismic effect of the news, as well as Ryota’s intransigence in the face of his family’s request.

As Ryota, actor Koji Seki evokes a man who almost literally walks to his own rhythm in life, restless and always looking forward, an aspect of his personality captured by the continuous movement. The question, though, becomes if he is willing to pause and change his course, even for a moment, for a family he still holds considerable resentment toward. And we also wonder if he will regret it if he doesn’t. As "Father Seriously Ill" winds towards its conclusions, this final question also begins to dawn upon Ryota — a man who has kept up his defenses until the very end, for better or for worse. The film’s single shot then becomes a metaphor for a man who keeps walking back and forth, mistaking movement for progress, when he realizes he hasn’t gone anywhere, really, at all.

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A man gets a call on his way to a job. His father is on his deathbed. | Father Seriously Ill
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