“An exquisite and highly entertaining marriage between Bloodthirsty Butchers’ punk music and Gakuryu Ishii’s crude and highly mobile cinematography (…) [that] touchingly [touches] upon a very delicate matter: the necessity of a symbolic place.”
Let’s kick off the new year with some punk-cinema! While Gakuryu ‘Sogo’ Ishii, the godfather of punk-cinema, did create some narratives, like Bitter Honey (2016), Isn’t Anyone Alive? (2012) and Labyrinth of Dreams (1997), that ventured in unexplored cinematographical territories, he returns to his punk roots with That’s it (2005). Luckily, this return is not a rehash of those narratives, like Burst City (1982), that made him so famous, but a reinvention of himself as punk director.
On one of his thieving rounds, Samao Daikoku (Shota Sometani), a homeless man lacking the birthright papers that would enable him to escape this distressing and dystopian life, breaks into the coin locker of the gangster Daikichi Ebisu (Kiyohiko Shibukawa) expecting to find gold. while there is no gold in the coin locker, Daikichi’s wallet does contain something very valuable, a hard drive containing the personal data of the runaways, homeless and hookers.
Samao Daikoku tries to use this hard disk as leverage for information about the whereabouts of his father so he can kill him, but ends up being captured and tortured by Daikichi. In that room, he meets Ami (Erina Mizuno), a hooker and a previous love interest. They both escape … but for how long?
The narrative of That’s it touches upon the fact that identity, besides the fundamental aspect of having a name as self-referent, is a space or place given by and found in the Other/other (narra-note 1). In the beginning of the narrative, Daikoku has no place as subject in society – he is only part of the non-whole of society (narra-note 2). Within this non-whole, Daikoku does have a minimal place within his volatile relationship with Ami; a place radically different than the position of dirty and filthy object he was given by Daikichi and Senyju (Gou Ayano) (Narra-note 3). In short, the narrative of That’s it essentially concerns Daikoku’s violent struggle to realize a place where he can try to become part of society as subject. In this respect, we could categorize this crazy narrative as a sort of “coming-in-place” narrative as well as an unconventional love narrative.
The cinematography of That’s It is raw, powerful and energetic. As shaky moving shots are abundantly used to orchestrate the visualization of the narrative, the cinematography constitutes itself as nothing other than a stylized love letter addressed to raw movement as such – be it the crude movement within a shot, the trembling movement of the shot as such, or the movement as function of the juxtapositioning of shots. The cinematography seldom attains complete fixation, but often changes into a more measured arrangement of moving (and sporadic fixed) shots to orient the narrative – with many artfully composed shots and tensive scenes as a result (cine-note 1). The torture scene around the middle of the narrative for example is utterly fabulous – in its cinematographical composition and in its ability to involve the emotions of the spectator (cine-note 2).
Of course something has to be said about the evolution of the colour-schemes in the narrative. This creative choice is effective in evoking and underlining a fundamental change in Daikoku’s subjective position. While the first act is painted in washed-out sepia tints expressing Daikoku’s impossibility to escape his situation, the second act in subdued colours concerns the minimal possibility given to Daikoku to change his predicament (narra-note 4). The chaotic and often disharmonic music is exquisitely interweaved with the raw imagery and is successful in infusing the narrative with a general coolness, psychological tension, and subjective determination. To be more precise, the splendid mix often communicates the psychological distress or determination of Daikoku and Ami, giving, in moments the music is absent, the exquisite performance of Shota Sometani and Erina Mizuno even more power and impact (cine-note 3).
That’s it is an exquisite and highly entertaining marriage between Bloodthirsty Butchers’ punk music and Gakuryu Ishii’s crude and highly mobile cinematography. While the bombardment of powerful visuals never ceases, the narrative is nevertheless able to touch touchingly upon a very delicate matter: the necessity of a symbolic place from where one can realize one’s subject in society. By venturing into this matter, Ishii creates a refreshing narrative that, besides being about love in a rather unconventional way, is all about coming-into-being. A must-see that by virtue of that thrilling twist at the end will long linger in one’s mind.
Cine-note 1: Besides subtle zoom-ins, close-ups and even extreme close-ups are used in Ishii’s cinematographical palette. The frequent use of close-ups gives the narrative a rather claustrophobic atmosphere, elevating the tension the narrative already exudes even more.
Cine-note 2: The final shoot-out scene, blended together with mange visuals, is also exquisite and a real joy to behold.
Cine-note 3: While the speech of Daikoku and Ami is instrumental in giving these characters some subjective substance, it is the music that gives them subjective depth. In other words: the subjectivity of the characters is to be found at the surface level of the music.
Narra-note 1: Daikoku’s expression that his father killed him officially by selling his birthright papers, should be understood as an act that effaced Daikoku of his symbolic place. His “rebirth” by buying new birthright papers refers to nothing other than the conditional place to realize himself as subject of society.
Narra-note 2: Ultimately, it is the effacing of Daikoku as an object – his murder – in the eyes of the gangsters, that gives Daikoku a position with the possibility to change his predicament within the non-whole.
Narra-note 3: In a similar way, Daikichi and Inogami (Jun Murakami), another gangster, receive their shackled place, a limited space to manifest themselves, because of their relation to Senyju.
Narra-note 4: Without revealing the end, it is necessary to underline that the change in colour in the narrative is linked with the twist at the end of the narrative. This twist might, in the eyes of some spectators, put our reading in a different perspective. Everything depends on how one interprets the last shot of the narrative.