Nobuhiro Yamashita is already a well established name in the Japanese cinematographical field. People may know him from the highly entertaining Linda Linda Linda (2005), A gentle Breeze in the village (2006) and The Matsugane Potshot Affair (2007), for which he won the award for Best Director at the 32nd Hochi Film Award, and the Midnight Diner drama series – the first season can be watched on Netflix.
This time, Yamashita is asked to try his hand on a narrative based on a short story Over Fence, written by the critically-acclaimed Japanese novelist Yashushi Sato, who committed suicide in 2010 at the age of 41. Over The Fence is, after Sketches of Kaitan City (2010) and The Light Shines Only There (2014), already the third movie based on his work.
After divorcing his wife, Yoshio Shiraiwa (Joe Odagiri) decides to go back to his hometown, Hakodate. To ensure himself of paid unemployement, Yoshio enrolls at the Hakodate vocational school to become a carpenter. At the vocational school, he meets Kazuhisa Daishima (Shota Matsuda). One day, Kazuhisa invites Yoshio to a hostess bar. There, he suddenly recognizes a women he saw before on the street doing a swan dance. That girl, Satoshi Tamura (Yu Aoi) appears to be a hostess at the club.
Just like The Light Shines Only There, the narrative concerns the meeting of two characters and the effects this meeting entails for both subjects. Yoshio Shiraiwa’s presence in the narrative space is characterized by a certain emptiness, his reluctance to engage in the social field, and the distance he keeps between him and others (narra-note 1, cine-note 1). This distance he aims to maintain is also sensible in his often evasive speech and the sensible presence of his smile as a facade, hiding the trauma he endured and the sadness he experiences.
Satoshi Tamura, for that matter, hides and defends her wounded and insecure subject behind her eccentric behaviour, mimicking how birds like ostriches court each other for instance, and her smiling. The reenactments of animal courting behaviour and her night-job at a hostess club, imply that something at the relational level remains problematic for Satoshi (narra-note 2). Nevertheless, it is her eccentricity that brings more lively content into Shiraiwa’s empty and mundane vessel of existence.
But it is Satoshi’s insecurity, an insecurity concerning love instigated by the enigmatic presence of Toshio’s marriage ring, that forces Toshio to reveal some of his subjective position. In other words, Satoshi’s piercing and demanding anger, as caused by her insecurity, orders Toshio to reveal his subjective position in relation to the symbolic relations that the ring implies. After this event, Toshio’s protective shell is cracked and his speech becomes more revealing of his subjective position. Satoshi’s insecurity furthermore exposes briefly the problematic given of the gaze and the threatening consequences of finding oneself in the object-position of trash.
Even though fixed shots are present, the cinematography of Over the Fence is fluid and full of movement. While the camera often travels in a slow and steady movement in the narrative space as such, the cinematography is more inclined, distant as well as more closer shots, to follow the movement of a central character as such. Of course, this means that the narrative compels us to focus on the subjective presence of Satoshi and Yoshio and their interaction with each other and various others, for instance Yoshio’s co-workers. As the presence of Satoshi and Yoshio is central in the narrative space, the acting performances are of fundamental importance. And Aoi Yu’s and Odagiri Jo’s performances do not disappoint at all. Aoi Yu’s performance is downright mesmerizing, bringing every facet of Satoshi’s fragile subject – a girl who wants to escape the insecurity that so defines her subject – sensibly and credibly to the fore, while Odagiri Jo’s is very precise in showing a subject that is, at first, reluctant to put his subject into the social field.
The narrative space in which these characters are present is painted in slightly washed-out colours which, aided by playing with depth of field, create a slightly wistful but summery atmosphere. The cinematographic focus on Satoshi and Yoshio is furthermore enhanced by low-key music, subtly strengthening the summery atmosphere and the general flow of the narrative.
Over the Fence is, due to its focusing cinematographical approach, a very meticulous study of two wounded subjects that, despite their insecure and quite often problematic interaction, are able to find and genuinely meet each other. Over the fence is not love-story in the traditional sense of the word, but a wonderful and moving psychological study of the concept of meeting, a sort of meeting that might change each subject involved forever.
Narra-note 1: Even if Yoshio is able to have some conversation with his brother-in-law, Yoshio remains evasive towards social contact with his family. His speech towards his brother-in-law, but also to others, often only aims to guard his isolation and the distance he want to keep them. Furthermore, Yoshio’s acceptance of various invitations by his co-workers have to be read in the same light of evasion – an acceptance without subjective involvement.
Narra-note 2: The reenactment of animal courtship shows the fixation of rituals to establish a sexual relationship, a fixation human beings do not have. Her work as a hostess for that matter concerns an establishment of an imaginary relationship, shaped by rules.
Narra-note 3: Yoshio decides to open up to Satoshi, a decision that constitutes his choice not to hide and distance himself any longer from her. Nevertheless, it was Satoshi that forced this opening by her insecurity.
Cine-note 1: The emptiness and isolation can be felt in the emptiness of the room in which Yoshio lives. The isolation, the safe distance Yoshio seeks, is also sensible in various shots with his co-workers.