While in Japan, Tanaka Jun, director of Bamy, invited me for an evening of drinking, eating and film discussion. Also invited was Matsumura Shingo, the director of Love And Goodbye and Hawaii. But before our meeting Tanaka asked if another friend of his could join our meeting. Of course, I said yes and that is how we met Koji Segawa, the director of Mothwoman (2008) and Kogeonna Warau (2011).
While surrounded by yummy food and Japanese beer, we joked around and talked among others about the movie industry in Japan as well as in Belgium. But Koji Segawa had one important question for us: Could you review my latest movie Swaying Mariko (2017), which was set to screen at the Raindance film festival? We happily obliged.
Mariko (Chise Ushio) is a seemingly normal housewife. She works as at a batting center. It is not an ideal environment with the manager (Keita Yamashina) chasing after her and the costumers being rude.
At home, things are not going well either. Mariko has been together with her younger husband for Tomoharu (Hide Miura) for six years and even have a son together. But Tomoharu is often, for unknown reasons, absent from home. Mariko suspects that he is having an affair. Before long, these elements of pressure, public and private, become an obsession that even influences her perception of reality.
Swaying Mariko is a slice of life character study of the subject of Mariko. The aspect of subjectivity, Mariko’s subjectivity that orients the framing of the narrative, is introduced by the audible presence of the inner thoughts of Mariko. As her subjectivity, her thoughts (uchi), is shared with the spectator, the narrative space (soto) is put into her unique perspective. This subjective perspective – and the slice of life nature of the narrative – makes sure that a range of different themes are touched upon: the complexities of a worker-boss relationship, underlining the inability to speak out openly against one’s boss and the easiness of sexual harassment to slip in the speech of seniors for instance, sexual harassment, the importance of the image within relationships between men and woman (narra-note 1), marriages who seemingly have become empty of love and lack of communication between husband and wive.
By following Mariko and her subjectivity, her critical voice on her narrative surroundings, Segawa provides a small-scale but very detailed investigation of the distance between the often superficial speech of subjects, their subjectivity and the actions contrary to the image subjects aim to present. But more importantly, Swaying Mariko provides a fresh and compelling account of a subject who has found herself as a strange and even troublesome object, a no-good object in the social field, and who eventually loses herself in a self-torturing form of paranoia (Narra-note 2, narra-note 3). In this respect, we should applaud the strong and subtle performance of Chise Ushio as Mariko, which brings the narrative of a kind of mental breakdown to an even higher level.
The narrative is constructed out of a concatenation of fixed shots blended with moving shots and in some instances shots with shakiness (cine-note 1). Segawa has found a satisfying rhythm with the cinematography, but Swaying Mariko, at times, does feel a little bit rough around the edges. Luckily, this doesn’t stop Segawa to paint some very powerful compositions on the silver screen and to attain impressive shots – which are at times unsettling – by way of simple geometry. t is this understanding of the power of simplicity and the artful composition of various scenes by which Segawa proves himself to be a very talented director with a lot of potential.
With Swaying Mariko, Segawa also reveals himself as a superb psychological surgeon, dissecting the complex duality and the dishonesty of a subject to others and to himself within the given social frame. The narrative thrives on the fact that each human subject is imperfect and that each and every subject is a no-good object. It is the truth every subject aims to hide behind social imagery, but, as the narrative shows, those who find themselves aware of this aspect are those who easily loose their way into mentally unstable areas.
Swaying Mariko may at times feel rough around the edges, but Koji Segawa crafted a strange, compelling and, at times, slightly confronting slice of life narrative. And while the narrative touches subtly upon various psycho-social dimensions, its most powerful message to the spectator is that that it is never good to leave things unsaid – and that only communication between subjects can mend a relationship and can save subjects from the no-good position they fundamentally adopt. Segawa, Give us more of your psychological narratives, but, if I’m allowed to give a suggestion, please make them a little bit longer.
Cine-note 1: There are shots that follow characters in the narrative space, zoom-outs and shots that move in the narrative space.
Narra-note 1: When Mariko is talking to her co-worker about her relationship, they quickly arrive at the question of marriage. The co-worker responds – revealing the importance of the image in her life – that she could never marry a guy below 170 centimeters.
Narra-note 2: What is unsettling is the revelation of Mariko’s sexuality, her enjoyment, as influenced by her aggressive fantasies and, later, with her aggressive act towards Tomoharu. These scenes reveal the intermingling of her enjoyment with the subjective position as a victim and her position as a no-good object.
Narra-note 3: The self-torturing paranoia will eventually switch from passive to active. Instead of the others “hurting” me, I hurt them. The critical voice of Mariko has to be read as a certain defense against the switch to this active position – it is therefore not surprising that the inner-thoughts disappear from the moment the active position is realized.