Shunji Iwai is nothing other than a legendary director. Having made narratives like Love Letter (1995) and All About Lily Chou-Chou (2001), he has made a name for himself as a director that investigates how subjects, who find themselves seemingly cut off from society and the social bond, still find a way, even if understanding each other is difficult or near impossible, to find a place in society.
With A bride For Rip van Winkle Shunji Iwai, just like Miwa Nishikawa did with The Long Excuse (2015), adapts his own novel to the silver screen. There are three different editions of this narrative in existence, the international two-hour edit, Iwai’s personal three-hour theatrical edit, and a four-and-a-half-hour version for television. Eleven arts brings the director’s preferred 3-hour version to US Cinema’s. For ticketing information, please visit www.elevenarts.net/ ripvanwinkle. To celebrate this release, we humbly present our review.
After finding each other online, Nanami (Haru Kuroki), who works part-time as teacher and part-time as convenience store attendant, meets up with Tetsuya (Go Jibiki) in real life for the first time. They hit it off, become a couple, and eventually start planning their wedding. But as she doesn’t have many relatives and asks Ramba Ral, a friend she’s texting with for advice.
Through Ramba Ral, she learns of the company ‘Nandemo Ya’ who can hire actors to attend her wedding party. After meeting Yukimasu Amuro (Gou Ayano). who runs the company, she decides to involve the agency. In the early stages of her marriage, Nanami starts suspecting her husband of having an affair. And then the boyfriend of the girl Tetsuya is possibly having an affair with shows up at the front porch.
In the first third of the narrative, many conversations are grounded in imaginary superficiality, conversations failing to create enduring and satisfying social bonds, e.g. the non-committal conversations with friends, the highly structured conversations at work, the wedding ceremony and party, … etc. As the narrative goes on, this imaginary superficiality is subtly and sensibly revealed as the main crux of the societal problem of loneliness. Especially the hiring of fake attendants at her wedding ceremony reveals explicitly the superficiality of social bonds as well as the societal importance of appearances (Narra-note 1).
But then the more darker aspects, those aspects of enjoyment that remain hidden behind the image, e.g. aspect of an affair hiding behind the image of happy marriage, start to surface. The superficiality of connections, the appearances, is positioned as dubious in respect with those aspects of the hidden image that seemingly reveal another level of subjectivity (Narra-note 2). For Nanami this dark revelation has a disconcerting effect and the fracturing of images (e.g. Tetsuya’s mother’s image of Nanami as contrasted with Nanami’s image of Tetsuya) makes it impossible for a genuine connection to be formed between them, isolating her thus completely from society (narra-note 3). In an elaborate and very moving way, the narrative of A Bride for Rip Van Winkle, makes the dimension of the manipulative and deceptive image and the emptiness the imaginary level often conditions sensible, while relativizing truth as being objective (general note 1).
Nevertheless, the narrative also shows an easily overlooked positive side of the imaginary, namely the fact that, for all its dangers, it remains necessary as to be able to form a social bond – this is shown through the relationship between Nanami and Mashiro (Cocco) and the growing romantic intimacy between them (narra-note 4). It is not surprising, as both resides at a deeper level than the level of superficiality, that the revelations concerning her are able to be accepted and that Mashiro is able to put her subject on display towards Nanami.
The cinematography of A Bride for Rip Van Winkle is largely characterized by subtle movement – a slight tremble or a slight drifting shift, often in accordance with the comportment of various characters like Mashiro, Amuro, … etc. More shaky shots, as following shots, are used as well, further gives the narrative the feeling of genuinely investigating the problematic nature of the imaginary and the reality of solitude in Japan (Cine-note 1). Furthermore, as the cinematography mostly circles around Nanami, follows her, and her voice is used as a narrating voice or as vocalization of her text-messages, these themes are painted by a deep character study of Nanami (cine-note 2). As this cinematographic circling successfully focuses the spectator on Nanami as subject (her speech, her emotions, and her comportment), the spectator is gently forced to feel the consequences of the things that befall her (Cine-note 3) And even though the cinematography hooks the spectator immediately – as well as the narrative, the true strength of the narrative is to be found in the utterly brilliant performance of Haru Kuroki as Nanami.
A Bride for Rip van Winkle is, in short, another masterpiece of Shunji Iwai. The narrative and the brilliant performance of Haru Kuroki are framed with such beauty and sincerity that the spectator is immediately investing in Manami’s subjective perspective. The skillful and thought-full use of classical music further empowers Kuroki’s performance in such way that A Bride for Rip van Winkle becomes a true moving and emotional experience. And while the narrative relativizes the concept of objective truth, Iwai goes deeper with his narrative by revealing how the reliance and the importance on the imaginary deconstructs genuine human connection but also forms the necessity to be able to form any social bond whatsoever.
Cine-note 1: At one moment in the narrative, a scene is completely composed with fixed shots. This scene further enforces the mystery that has slipped into the narrative. At other moments there are fixed shots used, but always with a purpose.
Cine-note 2: The cinematography also takes other persons in focus – to compose a certain scene, but those focusing moments are only temporary.
Cine-note 3: The use of classical music further empowers the impact of the narrative on the spectator.
Narra-note 1: The revelation of Nanami’s father that he and her mother are only a couple for appearances sake and that they’ll try to last until Nanami’s wedding, underlines subtly the importance of appearances in Japanese society. This conversation (between Nanami and her father) is one of the first conversations that also go somewhat beyond the imaginary level.
Narra-note 2: Nanami is not innocent either, as she keeps a blog that expresses her true opinions under a code-name. She hides something that would put her image into a problematic perspective.
Narra-note 3: With the fracturing of images we mean that the different subjects, based on the imaginary information (images, videos, or just speech) they have received, created images of one another that are incompatible and leave no room to correction.
Narra-note 4: Mashiro’s monologue reveals a different view on society – the use of money as a defense against the sincerity of the others. It is an act that makes most relations superficial as they are solely based on the exchange of money. In general, it is money as such that further enables the imaginary – the world of images – to be deceptive.
General note 1: A bride for Rip van Winkle still shows – in contrast with Kurosawa’s Rashomon, that there is a hidden truth behind the imaginary that explains everything – even if it is not directly accessible.