Thai director, Nawapol Thamrongrattanarit, offers an opposite view to Japanese organizing guru, Marie Kondo’s tidying-up game with a sentimental drama, Happy Old Year. When Kondo encourages people to declutter and organize their houses by throwing out stuff that no longer sparks joy, Nawapol argues that Kondo’s method is not always the case. Some people hold some memories dearer than some other people; and, sometimes, memories are knotted to specific things that belong to the past, even when they do not spark joy anymore.
Happy Old Year observes ‘old stuff’ — reminiscents of the past — as a container of memories. Oftentimes, people forget people or moment because there’s barely physical totem to hold on. This view makes Kondo’s credo looks too pragmatic; and, at the same times, gives the narrative a go.
Chutimon Chuengcharoensukying (breakthrough star of Bad Genius) takes up the front cover as Jean, an aspiring Thai interior designer, who has just returned to Bangkok after studying in Sweden. She brings the Swede minimalist design credo home, like literally at her doorstep. The aesthetic bans clutter, which apparently what her house is. Therefore, her first assignment is to declutter loads of old stuff from the house. That includes her father’s grand piano which has been abandoned since her father left home several years ago. Jean’s ruthless decluttering method meets resistance from her closest persons, especially her mother (Apasiri Nithibon), her brother (Thirawat Ngosawang), and her best friend, Pink (Praew Patcha Kitchaicharoen).
Happy Old Year takes off slowly from such a premise and works itself out as a multi-numbered art of decluttering. Some pivotal stuff is given backstories, to which the story begins to unravel. From those backstories, Nawapol brings us deeper to Jean’s mind in order to understand her frame of thought. The whole story feels like a pilgrimage journey to return everything to people that Jean used to know, including her ex, Aim (Sunny Suwanmethanont, bounced with a completely different character like one in Brother of the Year).
Jean appears to be completely minimalist in looks and everything, while everyone around her seems to be more complex in the look. This makes her character a little vague amongst other characters which seem to blend in pretty well. Chutimon portrays the character with impressive depths showing a total departure from her portrayal of the protagonist in Bad Genius. It all comes back to Nawapol’s construction of this character, which he deconstructs by presenting the pilgrimage journey. It takes more than two hours to finally make sense of things and people in Happy Old Year, but it really invites you to read the character more than liking them.
The whole journey feels satisfying, however, the steps are painful. Nawapol often teases with audiences’ patience with the story’s incoherently slow pace, even when it can actually skip off some parts to make the whole story more compact. However, one thing that this story does enticingly is how it conveys us with a convincing story about letting go. Happy Old Year gives old stuff — ones that might no longer spark joy — lives or, at least, memories to hold on in this story about the art of letting go.