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SAN SEBASTIÁN 2023 New Directors

Review: Last Shadow at First Light


- In Singaporean director Nicole Midori Woodford's melancholic and sensitive début feature film, a co-production between Asia and Slovenia, the distressed central characters sometimes see ghosts

Review: Last Shadow at First Light
Mihaya Shirata and Masatoshi Nagase in Last Shadow at First Light

Singaporean director Nicole Midori Woodford has written, directed and edited the short films For We Are StrangersWaiting RoomTenebrae and Permanent Resident, selected at Clermont-Ferrand and Busan. In 2021 she directed The Excursion, an episode of the HBO Asia miniseries Folklore, and she has studied with Berlinale Talents, the Asian Film Academy, Torino Film Lab and Talents Tokyo. Last Shadow at First Light [+see also:
film profile
This is her first feature film, which had its world première at the 71st San Sebastián International Film Festival, in the New Directors section.

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In this film we meet Ami (played by the very young Mihaya Shirata), a girl living in Singapore with her father, who cares for her sick grandmother and, above all, who misses her mother, whom she lost when she was a girl. She is always listening to cassette tapes with recordings of her mother’s voice and if anyone tries to touch them she becomes enraged and aggressive. She feels - she senses - that her mother is still alive (she even thinks she has seen her), although her father tries to convince her otherwise.

But Ami is stubborn and tenacious and she finally manages to travel to Japan see for herself the places devastated by a tsunami in 2011. There she meets up with her uncle (played by the veteran Japanese actor Masatoshi Nagase), a depressed, introverted and taciturn man, also struck down by the pain of his loss, who initially receives her with hostility and little affection.

What follows is a pilgrimage through places where the desolation and destruction is palpable, the shadow of death and the post-traumatic pain of a collective tragedy. Last Shadow at First Light is a delicate, melancholic and sensitive film about the psychology of loss and accepting the death of loved ones, who, as one of the characters assures us, "live on inside us for as long as we remember them".

Luck and chance also play a key role in this film with flashes of fantasy where the survivors of a catastrophe ask themselves “Why did I survive and others didn’t?” This trauma, which was also raised in Peter Weir's film Fearless (1993), in which Jeff Bridges survives a plane crash, came to the film maker's attention via her grandmother, who survived the atomic bomb dropped on Hiroshima.

So, this is a very personal film where the silences typical of Japanese culture are reflected in the gestural restraint of the actors who wander through shocking, ghostly and chilling scenes, such as a place where you could once see the sea and now you can only hear distant waves: they are hidden behind gigantic concrete walls to protect against a potential future tidal wave causing another collective pain that would be difficult to erase.

Last Shadow at First Light is produced by the Singaporean company Potocol, alongside the Japanese firms Fourier Films and Cogito Wars and Slovenian company Studio Virc.

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(Translated from Spanish by Alexandra Stephens)

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