It is not common for a cinematographical narrative to be inspired by the art and the life of a famous painter. In The Sower‘s case, Vincent Van Gogh and more specifically his paintings of sowing and sunflowers inspired Yosuke Takeuchi to create a narrative integrating these two elements so integral to Van Gogh’s oeuvre.
Furthermore, The Sower is Yosuke Takeuchi first try at a full-length feature film. As with the previous indie narratives we have reviewed, we question if Takeuchi is able to bring something fresh to the cinematographical table and if his first movie shows promise for the movies to come.
When Mitsuo (kentaro kishi) is able to leave the mental hospital, he goes straight to his brother Yuta (Tomomitsu Adachi), who is happily married to Yoko (Arisa Nakajima), and his two nieces, Chie (Suzuno Takenaka) and Itsuki (Ichika Takeuchi), who has down syndrome.
The following day, Mitsuo is allowed to take Chie and Itsuki to a small amusement park until the festival begins. While Mitsuo is going to the bathroom, an accident happens: Chie drops Itsuki on the ground, a incident Itsuki doesn’t survive. When Yoko urges Mitsuo and Chie to tell her what happened, Chie suddenly says that Uncle Mitsuo dropped her. Some time later, Mitsuo makes the same confession to the police.
One of the main thematic axis’ of The Sower is the difficulty or even impossibility of living with guilt. Chie’s act of lying has far-reaching effects, as the lie and the subsequent confession of Mitsuo robs her of the possibility to express the truth in her speech, to express the truth in the symbolic frame she has found her subjective position, i.e. her family (Narra-note 1). In this respect, the impossibility of expressing the truth, or for the truth to be accepted by the Other, also sentences Chie to bear the guilt alone – there is, in other words, no symbolic way out for her guilt.
Furthermore, the narrative of The Sower also shows the different qualities of various lacks of speech or the retreating in silence. In Mitsuo’s case, his muteness goes together with the trauma he had to endure. Mitsuo lack of speech sensible hides the awful past trauma that made him end up in a mental hospital. Despite his lack of speech, Mitsuo’s acts, e.g. the sowing, are communicative of his sadness, his joy, and his guilt and put him into the symbolic framework of subjects. Chie’s lack of speech is function of her lie and the unbearable secret she has to live with. In Yoko’s case, the period where she lacks speech informs us of her grief and the failure to give expression to the complex feelings the death of Itsuki has caused (Narra-note 2). On a side note: the narrative is also firmly grounded in Japanese culture as various aspects of Japanese life are framed, most notably the summer festivals with the omikoshi, and the Japanese funeral rites (narra-note 3, Narra-note 4).
The cinematography of The Sower is fluid and sometimes has a documentary feel (Cine-note 2). While fixed shots are present – for instance to frame emotions or to focus on facial expressions, most shots are characterized by a slight tremble and a slight drifting movement. Furthermore, in many instances a fluid and natural camera movement following the movement of a given character is applied. In such movements, sometimes reminiscent of Mizuguchi’s famous following shots, the camera drifts closer and further and often pivots around the character it follows. More unconventional shot compositions or transitions are used sporadically as well, but rather than disrupt, these shots add some artistry to the naturalness of the cinematographical style (Cine-note 3).
The thoughtful approach to sound is remarkable and further empowers the thematic content of the narrative. Quite often, the noises in a given space give a sense of the spatial features of the narrative space – the space either resounds in the utterance of speech or the speech is situated in the space by the sounds that surrounds it. In other instances, the spatial sounds underlines the silence or the very lack of speech of the various characters (Cine-note 4).
What makes The Sower truly shine are the performances of each actor/actress. But even though everybody’s performance feels natural, realizing the necessary emotional subtlety needed for this kind of narrative, it is kentaro kishi’s performance as the mute Mitsuo that is most impressive. Furthermore, the interplay between the characters – has created one of the most impressive scenes of 2016 (cine-note 1).
With its natural flowing cinematography, topnotch acting, and its attention to sound, The Sower is able to provide a very touching palette of sincere human emotions. The emotionality – not sentimentality, is present in every shot of the narrative – residing in the silences par excellence. The Sower sensibly communicates the impossibility of living with a lie and the necessity to express the truth to the Other/others and for the Other/others to symbolically acknowledge this truth. With The Sower Yosuke Takeuchi has proves himself to be a director with a clear vision and the talent to sincerely paint his vision on the silver screen. We can’t wait for his second cinematographical adventure in the human interest genre.
Narra-note 1: Chie eventually makes the transition to the confession. The mother turns Chie’s confession ) it is not clear if she really believes it or not – into a shared secret and into a shared lie with respect to the others – the truth remains stuck in a dual relationship. In this respect, the mother robs Chie of the possibility of expressing the truth to the Other and to receive an answer from this Other.
Narra-note 2: It should not come as a surprise that when Yoko starts to speak, feelings of guilt, sadness, and anger (towards her husband and his family) are expressed at the very same moment. This outburst of speech is not without effects, as it enables, in a way, Yoko to live on.
Narra-note 3: A Mikoshi is often used during a matsuri (Japanese festival). People carry the mikoshi on their shoulders from the shrine around the neighborhoods that worship that deity.
Narra-note 3: At the funeral, at the funeral feast, one member of the family, Keiko, reveals a common prejudice – “they’re not normal” – about people who were mentally ill and admitted in a mental hospital. She furthermore uses that misconception to add guilt to the sadness Yoko, Itsuki’s mother, feels.
Cine-note 1: Mitsuo’s home-coming scene is truly touching and might indeed be one the strongest scenes of 2016. The cinematographical aspect that enforces the power of this scene concerns the subtle use of the handy cam, which enforces the documentary feel of the scene and gives the framed emotions its spontaneous character. Later, the residence of Mitsuo in a mental hospital is said to be a disadvantage at court.
Cine-note 2: Japanese cinematography is characterized by its preference of using long temporal shots to built narratives. While the second part of the narrative features long temporal shots, The Sower, in our opinion, in the beginning of the narrative provides more faster cinematography with its concatenation of shorter shots.
Cine-Note 3: The cinematography, by close-ups for instance, also pays attention to the facial expressions of the main characters, underlining the emotional reactions of the characters on certain situations.
Cine-Note 4: Sometimes the sounds of a given narrative space are joined by a certain prolonged music piece, giving that concatenation of shots a certain uneasy feeling. Later in the narrative, in three instances, minimal music is used to infuse some scenes with additional sadness.