From Yasutaka Tsuitsui's 1965 manga novel The Girl Who Leapt Through Time, to more recent offerings such as Netflix's Re/Member and the works of Junta Yamaguchi, time loop movies are a core staple of Japanese sci-fi and genre. Touring across the UK this spring as part of The Japan Foundation's Touring Film Programme, Mondays: See You ‘This' Week! from writer/director Ryo Takebayashi is a charming and sincere new entry into the time loop canon
Unlike River's quaint ryokan setting or the cosy café of Beyond the Infinite Two Minutes, Mondays takes place in a far more realistic arena of mind-numbing monotony: An office. At one point or another, surely most every working adult has had a work week that truly feels like it'll never end, a droning grey mass of indistinguishable time, punctuated only by irritating coworkers, out-of-touch bosses, migraine-inducing overhead lighting and an IV drip of coffee. A group of hapless advertising professionals, led by the overworked and exhausted Yoshikawa (Wan Marui) discover, one by one, that their work week (a particularly stressful one at that where the team are literally sleeping in the office to make deadlines) has become caught in a cycle, the start of which is signalled by the same unlucky pigeon thumping against the window. Naturally, their boss Nagahisa (Makita Sports) remains completely oblivious to the teams' struggle – his tone-deaf jibe that it must be easy to work all night when you're young quickly goes from mildly grating to outwardly infuriating.
While anyone from any culture will no doubt find Mondays profoundly relatable, it's a film that specifically takes aim at the hierarchical and intense working culture of Japan. It's no secret to anyone with even a passing knowledge of Japanese culture that hard work – even to the detriment of employers – is not only intensely valued but expected. While employees working themselves to death is a widespread occurrence across the globe, the phenomenon is so prevalent in Japan that a word even exists in the Japanese language to describe it – karoshi. Despite the darkness of its real-life inspiration, Mondays embraces the inherent absurdity of a group working themselves to death for a miso soup ad and offers plenty of laugh-out-loud moments, especially one involving a PowerPoint presentation designed to explain the gravity of the situation to the gormless Nagahisa, who is seemingly unable to care about anything unless it is presented via bureaucratic work lingo.
As the group desperately try to figure out the trigger and return to lineal normality, ruminating on regrets forces them to reconsider what is truly important in their lives, and, like much time loop media before it, Mondays expounds its themes of working together, accepting or fixing unrealized ambitions and the imperative importance of following your heart rather than what's expected of you. Both heartwarming and a little hamfisted, Mondays doesn't reveal anything we as a collective don't already know about existing under late-stage capitalism, but it's always worth revisiting the touching idea that things could be better if we all stood to help each other out – as humans, not machines – a little more.
The Japan Foundation Touring Film Programme 2024 takes place in cinemas around the UK from February 2 to March 31.