“Dark side of the light provides a very tangible framing of (…) [the] disturbing irrationality [of abuse] and the denial of justice this irrationality introduces. This is Sakamaki’s greatest triumph.”
While Sakamaki Ryota has already been active as a director from 2001, he has always stayed under the radar domestically as well as internationally. But that might change with Dark side of the light, his most recent cinematographical product which won two awards, best Horror Feature Film and best actress, at the Tabloid Witch Awards.
As we said before, the J-horror genre has rather become stale in the last years, often rehashing the same tropes over and over again. The genre needs a new injection of creativity. The directorial debut of Jun Tanaka, Bamy (2016) already proved to be a fresh wind in the genre. But is Sakamaki Ryota able to provide an original approach to the genre with his horror drama as well?
One day, Takumi Toyonaga (Takashi Nagayama) visits his ex-girlfriend Emi Kinoshita (Yuki Sakurai). He needs to tell her something concerning the recent murder of Kohei Taninaka (Shugo Oshinari), the husband of her older sister, Tomomi (Megumi Hatachiya). He confesses that Tomomi and Kohei didn’t know each other from college but met at a match-making party, where they fell in love at first sight. Takumi then reveals Kohei’s lie about being a lawyer, a lie beginning Kohei’s abuse of Tomomi.
The narrative of Dark side of the light concerns, in first instance, the tension between soto, the outside image of the subject, and uchi, that what remains hidden behind that image. The main general structure of the narrative is influenced by this tension, playing with the fact that others, Emi for instance, only see the happy outside (Soto) of Kohei and Tomomi’s relationship – a soto hiding the abuse as uchi. Furthermore, Takumi’s speech and the revelation of Kohei’s lie underline in a subtle way that, in a relationship, one has to be able to put the superficial Soto, the clean image one emits to one’s surroundings as well as the constructed ideal image of the lovable other, into a safe perspective. And this is what fails to happen in Dark side of the light. There is a never-ending distrust from Kohei towards Tomomi, a distrust that puts her ego, as experienced by Kohei, permanently into question (narra-note 1). The main axis of the narrative is the effect the lie or the suspicion of being untruthful, as what lies or is thought to lie beyond one’s soto, has on the experience of each other as ego.
In a second instance, the narrative concerns that element that remains foreign and that aspect of the real that eludes us. This is sensible in the framing of the abuse, a framing that emphasizes the irrational character of violence as such (Narra-note 2). The explicit imagery that characterizes Dark side of the light is disturbing and the contrast between the ambient emptiness, often underlined by subtle music, and the impact of Kohei’s sudden violence and Tomomi’s reactions makes these scenes often difficult to bare – revealing the core of violence as foreign to each of us (Narra-note 3). A second aspect of the real is to be situated in Tomomi’s smile, a smile that remains elusive to Kohei. Tomomi’s smile, as foreign element, is something Kohei’s abuse can’t control. The subjectivity and – strange as it may be – the enjoyment this smile contains, renders Kohei’s violence powerless (Narra-note 4).
Dark side of the light has an interesting structure. The narrative is told in chapters, with each chapter having an appropriate name. Furthermore, as the end is already known from the very beginning, the pleasure of the narrative is to situated in the unfolding of what happened – the story as guided by Takumi’s speech and told through flashbacks – until the point that the present was realized (Cine-note 1). While the pace of the narrative is too fast in the beginning, it luckily slows down to carefully investigate the evolution of the hidden uchi of the relationship between Kohei and Tomomi (cine-note 2).
The narrative is framed with a mixture of subtle moving shots and fixed shots. In general, steady fixed shots are used, but there are some exceptions where shots, e.g. the party scene and some shots of Kohei, are framed with a sensible shakiness. While some shots benefit cinematographically from this shakiness, infusing the narrative space with some added tension, most of these these shots fail to enhance the spectator’s experience. And the few moments of dark, grim humour are unnecessary and detract from the serious subject matter at hand. Nevertheless, light and shadow are used thoughtfully and aided by subtle music, Sakamaki is able to paint an uneasy and menacing atmosphere. The uneasiness of the narrative space is furthermore enhanced by the superb acting performances of Shugo Oshinari and Megumi Hatachiya. Especially Megumi Hatachiya’s performance has to be applauded, as she brings all the complexities of her character with subtle care to the fore.
Dark side of the Light is a twisted tale that thrives on the enjoyment, the beyond sense of aggression (to women in particular) as well as the irrationality of enjoyment as such. The originality of Dark side of the Light lies in the fact that the narrative, just like Miike’s Audition (1999), aims to show the horror inherent to human beings a such. While the cinematography could have been more concise, the very tangible framing of this disturbing irrationality and the denial of justice this irrationality introduces is Sakamaki’s greatest triumph.
Cine-note 1: Flashbacks are almost always accompanied by music.
Cine-note 2: While the relationship is the main focus of the narrative, the director first underlines Kohei’s position as a character in that relationship. In the second half of the narrative this focus shifts to Tomomi’s position.
Narra-note 1: The source of Kohei’s distrust seems to be his interpretation of Tomomi’s answers as concealing aspects of the truth. We should underline the signifier “interpretation” as Kohei’s accusations are never proven or disproven.
Narra-note 2: Additionally, Dark side of the light provides a gripping account of the situation many abused women, stuck between the love for one’s husband and the real of the abuse, find themselves.
Narra-note 3: Both Kohei and Tomomi are driven by something beyond their control – this something being jouissance. Even if Kohei places the cause of his violence in Tomomi, he does underline that his shift to violence is beyond understanding.
Narra-note 4: Beyond the fact that Tomomi derives enjoyment from being abused, her shift to an active position, a shift to the position of the murderer, shows that it was never Kohei that had to be killed, but Kohei as the representation of her father.