If there's little in the way of resource swapping between Japan and Taiwan when drama cinema is involved, it's probably because Japan tends to be somewhat distant when it comes to working with foreign talent. Even so, director Hsui-Chiung Chiang managed to bridge the gap with Saihate Nite [The Furthest End Awaits], her second full-length feature. It shouldn't come as a surprise that it's a match made in heaven, as both countries share a very similar approach to the genre.
If you're searching for other examples of Taiwanese directors working in Japan, sooner or later you're bound to bump into Hsiao-Hsien Hou's Kohi Jiko. There's an interesting link there, as both films not only share a fascination for the popular caffeine drink, but Chiang actually learned the trade under Hou's mentorship as an assistant director. That said, Chiang has style of her own that isn't immediately linked to the Hou's work, at least not any more than it is linked to Japanese/Taiwanese drama cinema in general, so don't go in expecting a Hou clone.
Saihate Nite is a perfect summer film if I ever saw one. It has that leisurely island vibe (including the obligatory teacher-student interactions), it has a healthy dose of Asian food porn and its characters are inherently pleasant (with ony one notable exception). Add a hefty dose of sun and sea and it really starts to feel like mini-vacation. You could compare it to films like Megane, Kikansha Sensei and Shokudo Katasumuri, but ultimately Chiang serves her own pleasant blend of summer drama.
The story revolves around Misaki Yoshida. Misaki first lost track of her dad after her parents divorced when she was only 4 years old, later her dad got lost at sea and was never seen since. Eight years after his disappearance Misaki's dad is pronounced dead and Misaki inherits his old cabin by the sea. She packs up her things and moves to the cabin, setting up her little coffee shop there. That's where she meets Eriko, a young single mom who has all the trouble in the world raising her two young kids.
On the visual side, Saihate Nite is everything you'd expect from a Taiwanese director shooting an island drama in Japan. Blue and green are the dominant colors, the film is wrapped inside a soft and airy glow, the camera work is meticulous and delicate and there's an underlying beauty that adds a lot of atmosphere. The visual style isn't grand or in your face, but it's pleasant, comfortable and stylish. Pretty much perfect for a film like this.
The music is extremely traditional, a collection of subtle piano pieces make up most of the score. I can't say I remember much of any individual tracks, but as a whole the music adds a lot to the film's warm and soothing atmosphere. There's a reason why dramas like these often end up with piano scores, it simply works. Don't expect to be blown away by the score, don't hope for something novel and game changing and just enjoy the sweet, delicate piano sounds.
The cast too is hard to fault. Hiromi Nagasaku and Nozomi Sasaki put in great performances, Masatoshi Nagase is awesome, even when he has to play the bad guy and the child actors too do an amazing job. There's also a small part for Jun Marakami (playing Misaki's dad), who rounds off this excellent cast. Every single actor adds something of his own to the film, which says a lot about Chiang's ability to properly coach the actors she works with.
Saihate Nite is a very female-centered film. Almost all of the characters are women/girls, except for Nagase, who plays the crude male rapist. If that makes it sound like there's a big man vs women theme at play here, it's only because we've become so accustomed to the topic that we can't stop seeing it everywhere. Luckily the film is more layered and not at all judgmental, keeping the focus on the drama and the struggles of its characters, rather than extrapolating their problems to a broader message.
If you feel like watching a smooth, agreeable and warm-hearted drama on a leisurely summer day, Saihate Nite is a perfect match. It's a sweet, subtle and slowly paced drama, both technically and aesthetically pleasing. There are some edgier parts, but they never dominate the film and only pop up to smoothen out the relationships between the various characters. Saihate Nite is a great team-up between Taiwan and Japan, though that shouldn't come as too big of a surprise, as their dramatic output has been somewhat similar for a while now.