It would have been so easy for Ora, Ora Be Goin’ Alone to be a run-of-the-mill sappy mess with an ending you could see coming a mile away.
The film’s plot focuses on the elderly Momoko (Yuko Tanaka) who lives by herself and divides her time between silently haunting her empty house and her frequent visits to the doctor. Then, one day, Momoko’s sense of isolation manifests itself in the form of three sarcastic men wearing granny clothes, who explain that “We are you.” And you would be forgiven for thinking that you can guess what happens next: the “ghosts” continue to annoy Momoko until she joins a knitting club (or something of the kind), makes some friends and realizes that she still has plenty to live for. The final scene would surely show Momoko just as she’s about to thank the figments of her imagination, only to realize that they’ve disappeared because she no longer needs them. Roll credits, forget the movie within a week.
Thankfully, none of that happens.
There are two things that make Ora, Ora Be Goin’ Alone stand out. One is its exploration of the different kinds of loneliness and the second is its successful attempt to look at the positive sides of loneliness.
Momoko has lost her husband, no longer has contact with her son, and only gets a visit from her daughter when she needs money. She has no friends and there are days when she barely says half a sentence to another person. The movie definitely looks at what this does to a person, like how it creates the need for a routine and a hobby (in Momoko’s case: studying extinct animals and geological periods) in order to keep the mind busy and not go insane. But what is much more interesting is its look at a different kind of loneliness: the one where you’re constantly surrounded by people.
Nearly everyone knows what it’s like to feel lonely when you are, well, alone, but a lot of people also know the pain of being lonely while being among the wrong kind of people. This definitely used to be the case with Momoko. Coming from the Tohoku region (northeast Japan), Momoko is a reminder that Japan is far from “one of the most homogenous nations on the planet.” The Tohoku people have their own culture that’s very different from what you’ll find in Tokyo. They even have their own unique dialect that is present throughout the movie and will occasionally stump people who’ve only ever learned standard Japanese.
“She has no friends and there are days when she barely says half a sentence to another person.”
And when Momoko ran away from home to escape an arranged marriage and moved to Tokyo, she experienced firsthand just how startling the differences between her and other Japanese people can be. The look of haughtiness and borderline contempt she got from a restaurant client when her Tohoku dialect slipped out while working as a waitress in a flashback really drives this point home, that being lonely while being surrounded by people hurts equally, if not more, as just being alone.
But Ora, Ora Be Goin’ Alone isn’t here to wallow in sadness. Instead, it tries to look at the positive sides of loneliness. For example, when you’re from a different culture and feel like you don’t belong, it makes it all the more special when you run into someone like yourself! It’s happened to the young Momoko, who was beyond excited when another waitress at her restaurant turned out to be from Tohoku and even spoke to her in their local dialect to put her at ease. When you’re cut off from a source of your own identity, it makes you appreciate little stuff like that just a little bit more.
Ora, Ora Be Goin’ Alone even finds the positive of traditional loneliness when Momoko confronts her younger self and talks about how her husband’s passing had given her a kind of freedom to do whatever she wants. That freedom may not always be pretty but it can be if you allow yourself to take advantage of it by trying new things. Just like Momoko did in the end, with her three cross-dressing ghosts in tow.
Ora, Ora Be Goin’ Alone
- Japanese title: おらおらでひとりいぐも
- Based on: The novel “Ora Ora de Hitori Igumo” by Chisako Wakatake (若竹千佐子)
- Director: Shuichi Okita (沖田修一)
- Cast: Yuko Tanaka (田中裕子), Yu Aoi (蒼井優), Gaku Hamada (濱田岳), Munetaka Aoki (青木崇高), Kankuro Kudo (宮藤官九郎)
- Official Website: oraora-movie.asmik-ace.co.jp
Ora, Ora Be Goin’ Alone is currently being screened in theaters across Japan.
Featured image courtesy of Ora, Ora Be Goin’ Alone Production Committee. © 2020 「おらおらでひとりいぐも」製作委員会