Its really hot (humid hot). What to do? Attack the cinema (joy of air-con in a big room).
‘Funuke domo kanashimi no Ai o Misero’ is at first sight a slender tale, yet it tries to do for the dysfunctional family what “To Die For” did for love and romance (wasn’t Nicole almost good in that?). Funuke… rips it up with a weirdly dark sweetness. Everything is adorable but scary. The lead actress (Sumika, played by Eriko Sato) is obsessive but cute; incestuous and slutty, yet with innocence and charm; a gangster/yakuza moll, but also a high school sweetheart and loving sister. The rural wife is a mix of the witch/demon of Monkey stories and the castrator in Oshima’s “In the Realm of the Senses”. The male of the piece – after the debt-ridden patriarch is flattened even before his first scene (we see him in retrospect) – is a bad tempered, spoiled fool, manipulated by his half-sister (Sato), and in the end an honourable suicide. The younger sister, a manga writer just about to break big (Kiyomi: Aimi Satsukawa) turns out to be the chronicler of the very saga we have been witnessing.
So its funny. Does it tell us much about contemporary Japan [as national allegory Fred Jameson?)? Are men on the way out of the picture as this film would have it? Are women going slightly batty trying to have both a glamorous girly career and having to out-bastard even the Yakuza to get by?
The main idea is that talent/manga writing skills could be the meal ticket to the bright lights, just as once upon a time that path was via a Tokyo acting job (Sumiko’s director fantasy figure is straight out of the 60s auteur ‘I-wanna-meet-Kurosawa’ tradition – and the guy even looks a little like a young Kon Ichikawa). I guess this is plausible, but it rather ignores the interim achievements of Takeshi, Miike, Hara Kuzuo and Kon himself (at least the cinema was cool, half empty, but cool).
But that teenager was wicked, not cool. Certainly she (little sister Kiyomi) steals the show in what should have been an acting vehicle for Sato. The youngster playing Kiyomi (Satsukawa) has all the emotion. The half-brother/sister sex scenes are ok for atmosphere, but clearly/thankfully cannot be too explicit (kissing and a bare torso). Yet even this is not acting enough – the irony of the screen test scene where big sister fails to learn her lines or ‘prepare’ is telling. I guess we are supposed too enjoy this irony, but I’d be more keen to try to work out if there are any reflections to be made on the back of this psycho-social set up in the film insofar as it is related to the way the present historical conjuncture of capitalist-culture-industry Japan might be named. Not that reflection theory is all that credible – I guess a film can go against the times/or subvert the predicted allegorical code – but what if this scenario did say something profound about the country today?
What if this were an example of Otaku (nerd?) culture (manga sex/violence, superflat, Hikikomori) going mainstream? The other big film at the moment in Tokyo is transformers – I’ve said earlier that I enjoyed Toshiya Ueno’s examination of the transformation problem of former leftists into conservative producers of mass content market fare like that movie (must go see). What if there is more to be said about the gendered politics of manga authorship – relate this to the young women in battle Royale 1 & 2 – and some sort of angular version of feminism that I’m afraid is as opaque to me as the ubiquitous cos-play girls dressed up as Bo-Peep, but with lip and eye-brow piercings. There is surely a market out there for such stories/parables/mixes.
So it might make sense to ask why just now a certain version of family values are both affirmed and disrupted, as they are in this film (Funuke…). The sisters and sister-in-law all work hard at mending the family situation, damaged by, in turn, debt, distorted sexuality, and the intrusions of the culture industry: – in brief, the patriarch bequeathes debt; the wannabe actress seduces her half-brother (compensation dating – Enjo kosai – gone wrong?); the younger sister uses the family drama as material for her mainstream schlock manga debut.
There are scholars of Japanese culture and politics much better versed in all ways than I to talk about the significance of the financial crisis, family breakdowns and the culture industry (see Takashi Murakami’s “Little Boy” project and critiques thereof) but this does at least resonate with what little I do know of recent Japanese history. The years of stagnation have indeed put a strain on many families even as creative cultural production has been robust (Japan style!). This film then really does seem to conform.
And we haven’t even got to the main plot device of the film, which is a series of letters that never get delivered. Much could be made of this by Lacanians, Derrideans, but I am also interested to note that the letters sent by the fantacist actress to her imagined director are intercepted by little sister Kiyomi because she works at the post office in a part time capacity (what did Heidegger do in the war dad?). It would be wrong to restrict her labour here to precarious, since ther is no reason but maliciousness for her to intercept the letters, but its not insignificant that the plot runs on a writing machine that does not communicate to its intended audience. the ostensible lead ‘actress’ is supplanted by the scene-stealing (manga) writer. Is this then a film addressed to women or men? To aspiring actors/manga writers, or to director/editors. At the end the message is dessicated – the letters torn to scraps by Sumika and the loony in-law – but that is the point of this red-letter day. Am I as insane as witchy-cutie-doll-maker sister-in-law if I suggest that behind the code of this film is a Marxist critique of contemporary Japan? Of debt, careerism and the baleful exploitation of the precarious creative labour of youth? Unfortunately my experience of the Japanese Communist Party does not assure me that such critiques are popular within the organized left, but perhaps among filmmakers (or novelists like Yukiko Motoya who wrote the book)? By now I have somehow decided I really like this film – and that’s what’s wrong with reflection theory: you end up thinking the correspondences between capitalism and cinema are intended. Brilliant, but probably wrong.
Back to the summer now.