“An intimate emotive meditation on the mendacity of identity.”
One day Takeru Hayakawa (Jo Odagiri), a successful fashionable Tokyo fashion photographer, hears his mother has passed away. Returning to his hometown in his vintage car, he arrives late and unsuited for his mother’s memorial service. At the dining table later that day – partly because of Takera’s rude and late arrival at the service – the sour relationship between Takeru and his father Isamu Hayakawa (Masatô Ibu) comes to the surface. Before the situation can escalate and end in a scuffle, Takeru’s older brother Minoru Hayakawa (Teruyuki Kagawa) quickly intervenes and appease the emotions.
In the later conversations between Minoru – the son who stayed home and accepted his father’s wish to run the family business i.e. the rundown garage – and Takeru – the one who fled the misery of his small hometown and family, it becomes clear that the relation between them is not that good either. In the first conversation they have Minoru reveals that Takeru’s ex-girlfriend Chieko Kawabata (Yôko Maki) works at the garage as a gas attendant and in spite of Takeru insinuating a possible marriage between the two, he nevertheless ends up with her in bed. Chieko, who dreams of a better life in Tokyo, suggests Takeru to take her with him to Tokyo. He ignores her and leaves her apartment before dawn breaks.
The next day Minoru, Takeru and Chie go out on a trip to a nearby forest. Chie repeats her question and her desire to leave her hometown with Takeru. Again Takeru ignores her and even distances himself from Chieko and leaving her with Minoru alone, thereby leaving room for Minoru to reach out.
Whilst Takeru wanders around on the flanks of the forested mountain to take photographs, Chieko decides to follow him. At the shore he sees the suspension bridge he crossed some minutes ago. He sees Chieko crossing the bridge. Suddenly she stumbles and Minoru, who has followed her, tries to catch her. A few moments later, Chieko’s body is floating downstream. Soon Minoru is arrested for murder. Nevertheless the following questions arises: what happened on the bridge? Was it an accident? Did Minoru commit a murder? But the most important question is: What did Takeru see from his vantage point?
Yureru’s narrative is nothing other than the story of the return of the Takeru, the younger brother, and how his return and his action affects the people around him. Takeru is in other words the catalyst of the story, the strange element from Tokyo that disrupts the country life and instigates the provincial narrative.
This aspect of Takeru as the narrative catalyst is perfectly revealed by the effect his return has on Chieko; it’s only because of Takeru that the feeling to lack a future, the idea that her life turned out to be nothing and her desire to leave her provincial hometown relives. In a way the movie underlines the fact that it is the distance between her and her dream, a distant screen – the screen is Tokyo and Takeru the one who represents is – where she projects her desires on, that keeps the dream alive. It is Takeru who by his return makes this distance tangible, and as such brutally confronts her with this desire; this is beautifully shown in the shot where Chieko smells Takeru’s discarded cigarette packet. The reawakening of Chieko’s desire also points us to the fact that the narrative drives on this tension between city life (represented by Takeru, the uncle, … ) and countryside (represented by Chieko, Minoru, the father even the gas station, … ). Nevertheless, and this is a fine touch, it’s Takeru himself who points Chieko – not that she wants to hear it – to the falseness of her fantasized Tokyo – in a way he even touches upon that fact that one cannot escape one’s neurosis.
Besides the fact that Takeru is the narrative catalyst, it’s also important to underline that for almost the entire narrative his character is staged as the most inaccessible character. The composition of the narrative (see also the aspect of character emotional depth below) makes it hard to fully understand the motives of his actions. Why does he has a one-night stand with Chieko even though he’s fully aware of the prospect of his Minoru marrying her? In our view the narrative insinuates a motive of jealousy, a jealousy of his older brother and the close relationship Minoru has with Chieko. The act of having had sex with Chieko and the guilt that comes with it, then seems to be one of the main motives for Takeru’s further actions.
Yureru’s narrative of the return of Takeru , which is also a drama of the desire to have another life, is structured, and this essential, around the aspect of the lie; the narrative concerns the way Minoru, Takeru and Chieko relate to lies and the effects (the guilt for instance) that these lies inevitable implicate. For instance Chieko lies about her relation with Takeru, Takeru lies about his get together with Chieko, Minoru ignores Takeru’s obvious lie, … . But the biggest lie of Yureru’s narrative concerns Takeru’s ego, identity. To paraphrase this last sentence into a more proper form: the main truth this narrative successfully shows , by way of Takeru and his memories, is the inherent mendaciously nature and misrecognition of any ego formation whatsoever. The memories Takeru has of the incident/ murder, the interpretations he made of that what he has seen are marked by his ego. In other words: his ego and especially the subjective recuperation of his personal history that this ego conditions, is that what determines Takeru’s interpretation and recollection. I should thus come as no surprise that the confrontation of Takeru with ‘more’ objective evidence, which reveals the deceptive basis of his own ego and the way his personal history was ordered by it, has far-reaching emotional effects for him; these emotional effects won’t leave the audience indifferent. The fact that the narrative succeeds in making this dimension of the ego vividly tangible is one of the reasons that makes Yureru a real masterpiece.
The way Yureru is structured proves that Miwa Nishikawa has a firm grip on the story she wants to tell. Notwithstanding the chronological nature of the narrative Yureru does have a rather unusual structure; it elides the objective truth of what happened on the bridge, only to slowly give, as the trail progresses, subjective pieces or memories back. This structure has two effects: firstly it generates questions and keeps the viewers’ attention and secondly the introduction of new information puts former introduced things in new perspective.
Yureru’s use of music, albeit it doesn’t use a lot of music, is utilized effective in two different ways. The first effective use of music concentrates itself in the following three scenes: the intro that introduces Takeru as the fashionable guy driving his vintage car, the scene where Takeru drives Chieko home, and the scene where Chieko, Takeru and Minoru drive to the woods. In each of these scenes the funky, bluesy music is inherent to the scene itself and reveals itself as a part of Takeru’s fashionable identity. The second way the music – this time it’s piano music – is used is to successfully implicate feelings and to generate a shared atmosphere. But it’s not the music that makes this movie a sublime masterpiece, because the mean Yureru uses to draw the viewer in, to give depth to characters, to realize a sensible emotional tension and to ground the movie in a dreary contemporary reality lies elsewhere.
The aforementioned mean Yureru employs is nothing other than the given of the composition of the scenes – the conscious use of space in particular, which structures the staging of speech and the staging of silence. Yureru very effectively shows that compositional complexity is not needed to make things interesting. On the contrary the movie shows that its precisely because of its extremely well thought out compositional simplicity, which gives place to speech and silence, that the narrative realizes depth and emotion. The often somewhat longer shots with fixed camera viewpoints are used precisely to underline speech – to ground speech in the narrative reality – and, when focusing on the lack of speech, to insinuate emotional character depth. This implied emotional depth is presented as almost inaccessible, raising more questions – what is he/she thinking? – than giving answers; Yureru thus presents the viewers with emotional beings grounded in a dreary contemporary reality. In the scene where Takeru is driving Chieko home for example the focus, the fixating on Chieko’s lack of speech and facial expression after Takeru’s question has no other effect than to make her emotional depth tangible. Another example is the emotional powerful scene, this by way of the use of silence, where Takeru is comforting Minoru on the suspension bridge.
The longer fixed shots, those shots who feature an interplay of silence and speech – are used effectively to frame emotion and underline tension. These longer shots are used for instance to stage the anger bursts of the father, the one at the memorial service scene and the one in the kitchen, in a powerful emotional eruptive way. Another aspect that really provides emotional depth is the juxtaposition of shots of narrative reality and shots of subjective memories. This juxtaposition is utilized for instance to stage the affective irruption of Takeru while showering and to show both Takeru’s and Minoru’s memories at the trail while Minoru is confessing.
Last but not least the acting is sublime and especially Teruyuki Kagawa’s performance is tremendous. It should be mentioned that every actor/actress in the movie gives emotion and reality to the characters they impersonate.
Yureru is a work of art, a real masterpiece. It’s not the narrative per se that is brilliant, but it’s the way the narrative is structured and the way Miwa Nishikawa staged this narrative that transforms this movie into a work of sublimity. Whereas the structure of the narrative succeeds in making the dimension of mendacity of the ego vividly tangible, the technical execution, the compositional simplicity we mentioned in detail above, gives emotional depth to characters. The effectiveness of the narrative lies thus primarily in the interaction of the characters; the characters that are staged, by way of the composition of scenes and narrative, as having an almost unreachable depth of character.
It’s an intimate emotive meditation on the mendacity of identity and a meditation we’re obliged to recommend to everyone.