The Watanabe brothers – owners of the production group Foolisch Piggies Films, already carved a specific name for themselves on the international scene by releasing various refreshing and rather experimental cinematographical narratives mixed with Hirobumi’s subtle humour. Last year’s Poolsideman (2016) won the Japanese Cinema splash award at TIFF and was met with critical acclaim at various film festivals.
Known for their minimalist character studies, their black and white framing of their narrative world, and their often morbid atmospheres, the Watanabe brothers have surprised us time and time again with their peculiar style and narratives. So of course we’re curious on how their latest project party ’round the world has ended up.
Party ’round the globe concerns the story of Hikaru Honda (Gaku Imamura), who has a truly uneventful and rather repetitive life as a worker in a small electronics factory, and his coworker, a fellow beatlemaniac Takafumi Hirayama (Hirobumi Watanabe) (Cine-note 1). While Hikaru Honda is a silent, stoic and thus subjectively inaccessible character, Takafumi Hirayama is on the contrary a talkative guy, giving monologues about the concerts he went to – Ringo Star and Bob Dylan, who both performed in the Zepp Tokyo, and other concert-related stuff (narra-note 1). But in truth, his monologues are centered on revealing in which way he, as taking up the image of a fan, differs from the others. And while Takafumi can talk as if he is having a conversation – asking questions to Hikaru – he never awaits the answers of Hikaru, instead filling in Hikaru’s answers, so that he can keep on speaking (Narra-note 2).
Only when Takafumi asks him if he want to buy a spare ticket from him, so they can go to Paul McCartney together, there is an isolated event – his act of running – that should be seen as an expression of desire. And while the subjective act, this subjective decision of running breaks his usual routine, there is no way for the spectator to guess – this adds mystery to his being in the narrative space, what the Beatles and this concert mean to him. There is, in other words, only one instance to feel his desire (narra-note 3). The act of running nevertheless puts him back, albeit in a minimal way, in the social field – by ultimately going to Takafumi’s party (Narra-note 4).
The black and white cinematography of Party ’round the globe is a rather composedly affair, providing insight in the narrative space by a concatenation of often very lengthy shots in general – it is not uncommon for conversations to be shots in a one fixed shot (Cine-note 2). While moving shots, e.g. implying the movement of the car with slightly shaky shots, or slowly following the movement of the car while it traverses the landscape, are present, the general fixity of the framing focuses the attention on the being of the characters, i.e. their speech (or lack thereof) and their comportment, as framed in the narrative space as such (cine-note 3). The simplicity of the cinematography, by way of the slow shot, creates some nice and powerful compositions.
While Yuji Watanabe’s simplistic music infuses a mood of the narrative, ambient noise – as a sort of hearable silence – is also important in the narrative space. While this hearable silence consists of a variety of sounds, e.g. children, school-bell, crickets, birds, sounds of machines, …, etc., the wind often takes the main stage. This attentive approach to sound infuses the entire narrative with a certain atmosphere, underlining, despite the wind, the largely empty and repetitive nature of Hikaru Honda’s life.
Party ’round the globe provides the spectator with a very unusual blend of slice of life narrative and a road-movie. While almost nothing happens in the narrative – the emptiness and repetitiveness of Hikaru’s life and his lack of desire is put on display, party ’round the world‘s narrative rhythm does exert a strange charming attraction on the spectator. Notwithstanding this narrative simplicity, the Watanabe brothers are able to paint a purified account of the guiding nature of desire and the importance of taking part in the social field.
Cine-note 1: The repetitive nature of Hikaru Honda’s life is underlined by the repetition of certain shots.
Cine-note 2: While the narrative is completely shot in black and white, the opening minutes of Party ’round the globe are in colour – the narrative the boy reads for us, accompanied with the drawings of the picture book.
Cine-note 3: There are exceptions to the cinematography. In some instances, the comportment of characters are framed with a slightly drifting camera or with a simple camera movement. In the second half of the narrative, e.g. from the arrival of Paul McCartney onward, more moving and more slightly drifting shots are used – becoming thus a more documentary styled cinematography.
Narra-note 1: Through Hikaru’s dog’s dream and his dream, the once happy family of Hikaru Honda with his wife and daughter is revealed – albeit a certain mystery about his past is introduced as well. In this respect, we can say that the social field the family conditioned fell away.
The many children’s drawings hanging in the house already implied that there was at one point a family. The children’s story that was told to the spectator in the beginning, is also not unrelated.
Nara-note 2: While we get to know who Takafumi Hirayama as a fan is, his speech about the image of the kind of fan he identifies with renders his subjectivity somewhat inaccessible as well. Furthermore, by filling in the answers of Hikaru – answer he would not have given anyway, Takafumi keeps the imaginary image of a conversation going on alive.
Narra-note 3: There are other elements that express the fact he is fan of the Beatles. He has two old beetle cars and his dog’s name is Ringo.
Narra-note 4: The narrative is well grounded in contemporary reality through the use of a newsreader (as a sort of instance of music). Stories concerning Bob Dylan and his Nobel prize, the story of Tsukiji fish market, the political debate concerning the anti-conspiracy legislation bill, and the terror attacks in London, … etc., are present.