“A fantastic psychological journey into the drama of the the (unsaid) signifier”.
Introduction: Ayako Kaneshiro (Nagisa Umeno) is a young, mid-20s woman who still lives with her emotionally reserved father (Ken Mitsuishi). One night, while travelling home after work, Ayako meets a former classmate, Yukari Hosaka (Emiko Matsuoka) at a construction site where she works directing traffic. This chance meeting rekindles their friendship, with Ayako offering Yukari a job at the company where she’s an office manager. But from the moment they’re colleagues, Ayako starts to belittle her friend, undermining her at every turn. And thus the question arises: Were they even friends to begin with?
Plot: Forma ultimately aims to show what’s behind the primary imaginary ritual ‘politeness’ of the Japanese corporate life. Yet before this ‘behind’, by way of a single 24 minute climactic scene, is shown, Sakamoto takes us on a journey that slowly delineates the relationship between Ayako and Yukari as defined by the corporate context e.g. Ayako has to chide Yukari for using informal language and making too many mistakes. Alas, even in spite of the defining corporate rules, it’s quite clear from the very beginning of the movie that there’s something off about their relationship.
The relationship between Ayako and Yukari is haunted by the simple element of le non-dit i.e. an unspoken subjective truth, an unsaid signifier. Sakamoto’s Forma is a thorough study of the effects of le non-dit, on how this non-dit defines and motivates the subject, in this case Ayako, and how it subsequently effects relations.
“There was no script for the 24-minute (…) [climax] in the warehouse. (…) [Akamoto] gave the actresses a long memo outlining Ayako and Yukari’s upbringing, personalities, what they thought of each other, and their past actions. ‘The rest was improvised. We had two takes of the scene and each time it was very intense with a lot of tension in the air’. (Japanese Cinema Splash, 18 October 2013)”
Cinematography: It’s only at the end, at the climax, that the real subjectivity of Ayako unfurls. The effects of this unfurling only reverberate so powerfully because it’s placed against the background of emptiness that characterizes the filmic reality as a whole. Sakamoto’s portrayal of Tokyo is empty, bleak and colourless – the movie is mostly shot in a washed-out palette of greys, black and beiges. Shot almost entirely using fixed camera angles, the slow paced shots underline the emptiness that characterizes Tokyo and thus Yukari’s and Ayako’s life. The often very rough and fragmented dialogues (the daily chitter-chatter, the bla-bla without saying anything, and the interactions at work) and the music-free soundtrack do nothing less than emphasize this discomforting emptiness.
Style: Forma is a slow building and slow paced narrative, that requires the viewer to be able to bear the deliberate emptiness that defines the cinematography. What starts as a rather tense experience, becomes compelling once you tune into the constant background hum of low-level menace, caused by the non-dit. Furthermore the slow pace enables the viewer to breath in and explore the atmosphere of Yukari’s and Ayako’s life.
After the opening hour, Forma does something quite extraordinary: it leaves its linear fashion. The narrative changes, backtracks it steps, in order to retell the story from a different perspective. And Forma shifts perspective a second time emphasizing the (effects of the) unsaid in an even sharper way. This change in the narrative effectively captures the viewer and compels him/her, if he wasn’t already, to see the movie till the very end.
Conclusion: Forma is an amazing piece of character cinema/psycho-drama, a slow-burning thriller that shows us the subjective effects of le non-dit. It is truly a fantastic psychological journey into the drama of the (unsaid) signifier. It asks some effort – maybe a bit to much effort for some – from the viewer, but for those who’re willing the reward is a unforgettable, startling and haunting finale. If you think you can’t bear the structural emptiness that marks the cinematography, I advise you to skip this movie.