Kiokuya is made of three kanji, and can be split into two fragments. Kiokuyu, the first two kanji, means “memory”. Those things that we’ve experienced before that we may or may not remember in full, for better or worse. Complicated things, we’ll talk about them more later. The second kanji is “Ya”, or store. So together, Kiokuya reads as “Memory Store” or perhaps a bit more title worthy in my opinion, “Memory Shop”. It’s certainly an interesting premise.
The idea of a small back-alley shop that contains memories sounds interesting to me. It feels very much like Xxxholic. by CLAMP. However, Kiokuya is not quite a store, and isn’t quite somewhere we can go visit freely.
“Kiokuya”, is the story of Ryoichi Yoshimori (Yamada Ryousuke) a university student. He lives an average life, and is on the cusp of graduating, and had recently proposed to his long term girlfriend, Sawada Kyoko (Renbutsu Misako). A few days after the proposal, Ryoichi sees Kyoko at the train station after not hearing from her only to discover to his horror and her terror; she has no memory of him. Ryoichi seeks with his childhood friend Kawai Maki (Yoshine Kyoko), and a detective and memory researcher Takaharu Chiaki (Sasaki Kuranosuke), to uncover the truth behind Kyoko’s sudden memory loss, while also seeking out the legend of the ‘Kiokuya’ an urban legend that is said to be able to erase memories.
Which, don’t let that movie poster and description fool you. While this series never gets heavy with technicalities, aside for some brief explanations of how memory is formed early on, it is quite complicated. There are a lot of sub-plots within the series to keep in mind. The first being Kyoko and Ryousuke’s relationship falling apart due to Kyoko’s memory loss. I specifically call it that, because it is not amnesia, which a over-used and all too easily cleared up thing within Japanese movies. Memory loss, especially the type that Kyoko is eventually revealed to have is much more serious, if not downright supernatural.
Additionally, there is another high-school aged couple where a similar instance happens. The young woman experiences a jarring event, and then one day has no memory of it. While the main part of the series is the seeking of the ‘Kiokuya’, which is first shown to be part of Ryoichi’s research as not only a possible source of Kyoko’s memory loss, but a long standing urban legend in and of itself.
I was a little disappointed that the memory eraser was not part of an actual Japanese urban legend. The film through the actors, events, and timelines really sold it to me that it was an actual long standing one! Down to the detailing of the timeline of when such an urban legend would start (Post World War II), was fantastic. It’s one of the most brilliant points of the film.
The film didn’t have loose ends. It felt like at first that you were handed a bunch of threads in different colors and styles, but as the film went on the pieces weaved together and concluded fairly naturally. I have to admit it was not seamless. There were a few points where things (due to time constraints of film), had to be a bit forced. Written in a manner that it made sense that something along those lines should occur, but the actions were a bit jarring in my opinion.
The biggest example, without spoilers is Ryoichi and the high school couple. In the film until this point, Ryoichi has only been aware of the high-school couple, through his research with Takaharu-Sensei. However due to circumstances, he is forced into interacting with the duo directly with no prior introduction and it goes about as well as you can anticipate when a stranger shows up at your door. The scene does manage to smooth over this rougher piece, and weave itself back into the narrative so it can continue along.
Purposefully, so not to expose all the elements of this film, I’ve talked around Maki and Takaharu-Sensei. Don’t go thinking this is all about Ryoichi and Kyoko, the secondary cast is just as important as our inactive main couple. Maki develops as a unique figure, despite her initial type-casting. Takaharu-Sensei is also a key figure since he acts out a bit different when it comes to his reason for contacting the ‘Kiokuya’.
About the only negative of the film is the actual memories discussed. The film makes a large point from various characters saying that memory is merely recalling a sequence of events in the past. That memories hold emotions and lasting repercussions into the present and future as well for the holder. Yet, this feels a bit superficial at best. It was more of a spoken piece of the film, despite the title, rather then being shown in full. I understand the director’s in where he wanted the emphasis. However, having a bit more exploring in a short focused sequence of at least one of the erased memories would have given the story a higher impact in my eyes.
Similarly, while I understood the how/where/when we got to the conclusion and resolution. Where it could have taken a heavier and darker tone, Kiokuya does make a point to show that much like memories come and go, life still continues. I just happen to not agree with a particular character’s choice in how they decided to continue.
Overall, ‘Kiokuya’ is a well put together film. It makes excellant use between well-seasoned actors, as well as popular ones. The settings, especially the set for Kyoko’s cafe which I’m hoping one day I can get a visit to (it’s gorgeous), were well scouted and really help with the imagery creating the right mood. There’s enough moments to make an impact, but perhaps not quite as much as I would have liked.