“Yureru proves to be a very intimate emotive meditation on the mendacity of identity and the subjectivity in experiencing reality. It is a sublime meditation we recommend to everyone.”
In 2006, Miwa Nishikawa released her second feature film Yureru. As her first feature film, Wild Berries (2003), for which Kore-eda was the producer, garnished many awards, like the Best New Director award at the 2004 Yokohama Film Festival and the 13th Japanese Professional Movie Awards, expectations were very high. With Yureru (2006), which won 4 awards at the Yokohama Film Festival, and Dear Doctor (2009), Nishikawa confirmed her status as a big talent in the industry.
Even though Nishikawa just released her fifth movie, The Long Excuse (2016), a movie based on a book she wrote herself, we chose to return in time and review her second feature (general note 1).
When the mother of Takeru Hayakawa (Odagiri Jo) passes away, he is obliged to return to his hometown for the funeral. But this is not a happy homecoming. His relationship with his father Isamu Hayakawa (Masatô Ibu) is sour. And the relation with Minoru (Teruyuki Kagawa), his older brother who stayed home and accepted his father’s wish to run the family business i.e. the rundown garage, is not that good either. A Meeting with his ex-girlfriend Chieko Kawabata (Yôko Maki), who works at Minoru’s garage as a gas attendant, ends between the sheets. Dreaming of a better life in Tokyo, she suggests him to take her to Tokyo, a suggestion he ignores. The very next day, Chieko repeats the very same wish. Takeru ignores her once again and wanders off, leaving Chieko and Minoru alone. Takeru, who is taking pictures on the flanks of the forested mountain, sees Chieko crossing the bridge. She stumbles and Minoru, who has followed her, tries to catch her. He misses. Chieko’s body is floating downstream. On top of that Minoru gets arrested for murder.
The narrative of Yureru, in its simplest dimension, is the story of the return of Takeru, the younger brother, and how his return, as the strange element, affects the country life and people around him. In the case of Chieko, Takeru’s return, which acts as the narrative catalyst, confronts her with her feeling of lacking a future and her desire to escape her provincial hometown (psycho-note 1). The reawakening of Chieko’s desire shows that fact that the narrative drives on this tension between city life, as fantasy screen and represented by Takeru and the uncle, and countryside, as reality and represented by Chieko, Minoru, the father, and even the gas station.
In the narrative, Takeru is framed as almost completely inaccessible for the spectator. The spectator is unable to fully understand the motives of his actions. Why does he have a one-night-stand with Chieko even though he is fully aware of the prospect of his Minoru marrying her? The narrative seems to insinuate jealousy as motive, i.e. Takeru being jealous of his older brother and the close relationship he has with Chieko. The guilt that the one-night-stand causes, seems to be the main motivator for Takeru’s further actions.
The narrative structure of Yureru, notwithstanding its chronological nature, has a rather unusual structure as it elides the objective truth of what happened on the bridge, only to slowly give, as the trail progresses, subjective pieces of memories back. The progression of the narrative keeps producing questions and, with each new piece of memory, earlier information is put into a new perspective. Yureru‘s unusual structure is also linked with the centrality of the lie in the narrative. The narrative is deeply concerned with the way Minoru, Takeru and Chieko are related with respect to lying and the effects, e.g. guilt, these lies inevitable implicate (narra-note 1). But, more radically, the main truth Yureru reveals is the inherent mendacious nature and the misrecognition characteristic of any ego formation whatsoever (psycho-note 2). It should thus come as no surprise that Takeru’s confrontation with ‘more’ objective evidence, a confrontation revealing the deceptive basis of his own ego and the way his personal history was ordered by it, has far-reaching emotional effects for him and for the spectator. The vivid way in which the narrative shows the nature of the ego is one of the reasons why Yureru is a true masterpiece.
Another reason why yureru is a sublime masterpiece, is to be found in the composition of the scenes as such, i.e. in the way which narrative space is used to structure the staging of speech and, more importantly, the staging of silence (cine-note 1). The compositional simplicity (i.e. the longer takes and fixed camera viewpoints) of Yureru gives the narrative depth and sensible emotion precisely because it grounds speech in the narrative reality, and because it insinuates emotional character depth by focuses on the lack of speech. But this emotional depth is framed as almost completely inaccessible, raising more questions – what is he/she thinking? – than providing answers (Cine-note 2). The interplay of silence and speech, captured by the longer takes, effectively evoke emotion, while underline tension along the way. Emotional depth is furthermore evoked by the juxtaposition of shots of narrative reality and shots of subjective memories (narra-note 3). The effect of cinematography is further empowered by the sublime acting, and especially the tremendous performance of Teruyuki Kagawa. Each actor/actress provides depth and emotion to his/her characters, grounding them realistically in the dreary narrative reality.
In short, Yureru is a work of art, a true masterpiece. Its brilliance lies not in the narrative per se, but in the way this narrative has been structured and staged by Miwa Nishikawa. The structure of the narrative reveals the dimension of the mendacity of the ego in all its glory, while the compositional simplicity gives emotional depth to characters. The power of the narrative lies thus in the framing of interactions, interactions revealing each character as having a certain depth forever unreachable for the spectator. Yureru proves to be a very intimate emotive meditation on the mendacity of identity and the subjectivity in experiencing reality. It is a sublime meditation we recommend to everyone.
General Note 1: This review first appeared in 2015, but was rewritten in 2017.
Psycho-note 1: 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. 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.
Psycho-note 2: 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.
Narra-note 1: For example, Chieko lies about her relation with Takeru, Takeru lies about his get together with Chieko, and Minoru ignores Takeru’s obvious lie.
Cine-note 1: Even though music is not often used in yureru, it is utilized effectively. The funky, bluesy diegetic music that accompanies Takeru’s driving reveals Takeru’s fashionable identity, while the piano music is successfully used to implicate feelings and to generate a shared atmosphere.
Cine-note 2: 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.
Cine-note 3: The longer shots are for instance used 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. The juxtaposition is utilized for instance to stage the Takeru’s affective irruption while showering and to frame Takeru’s and Minoru’s memories at the trail while Minoru is confessing.