One will not contest that Daihachi Yoshida has a preference for adapting novels or manga’s to the silver screen. His first full-length feature, which immediately marked his international breakthrough, Funuke Show Some Love, You Losers! (2007), was an adaptation of a novel by Yukiko Motoya. And his next movie, The Wonderful World of Captain Kuhio (2009), was an adaptation of Kazumasa Yoshida’s biographical novel. The Kirishima Thing (2012) is not different in this respect and is based on a novel that Ryo Asai wrote while he was still a student at Waseda University.
If one closely follows Yoshida’s oeuvre, including the narratives he crafted after The Kirishima Thing, it is not difficult to see that social pressure in general and the effects of social pressure on women are themes that he likes to explore. This time, with The Kirishima Thing, he investigates these themes in a high-school context.
Ryoya Maeda (Ryunosuke Kamiki) and Takefumi (Tomoya Maeno) are part of the film club. Despite the advice to write another script, Ryoya motivates the club to start filming their Sci-fi zombie narrative. Aya Sawashima (Suzuka Ohgo), a dedicated band-leader, likes to play the saxophone on the roof before going to the club-room. Even though she knows that Ryuta (Motoki Ochiai), Hiroki Kikuchi (Masahiro Higashide) and Tomohiro (Koudai Asaka), who often play basketball on the grounds, are able to see her. And Lisa (Mizuki Yamamoto), she waits, just like Ryuta, Hiroki and Tomohiro, until Kirishima finishes his volleybal practice.
The Kirishima Thing is a narrative that gives a truthful insight in Japanese high-school life. And while many other Japanese narratives concern this setting in one way or another, The Kirishima Thing differentiates itself by focusing on the banality of this life (e.g. the various clubs, the cliques, the hierarchy, …) and the banality of speech between students (e.g. about sexuality, club-matters, … ). As a matter of fact, it is solely by taking this banality as its focus – and by showing the first day and the fifth and final day from different but linked perspectives – that the narrative is able to subtly paint the complexity of this specific social fabric as such and show how this social fabric, as acting like a mirror, defines the facade one has to hide behind. Ultimately, this means that the narrative, beyond its subjective superficiality, aims to be a meticulous study of an ensemble of relationships, which are to a greater or lesser degree influenced by the mirroring social hierarchy (Narra-note 1).
In this respect, the narrative investigates how the absence of Kirishima as a presence ripples the equilibrium of the social fabric and touches the banality of each student’s unfolding life. By investigating the effects this present absence has on characters and on certain relationships, the narrative shows in a very subtle way that one’s ego and facade are ever affected by relations and that one’s ego has a relational basis. In this respect, the rippling of the equilibrium is shown to be a moment that creates opportunities to change and become more subject, e.g. Kasumi and Hiroki, as well as a moment that causes subjective confrontation, e.g. Fuusuke (Taiga) and Lisa (Narra-note 2).
While the cinematography in The Kirishima Thing starts off as a rather fixed affair, the narrative quickly slips into a more dynamic blend of slow moving shots – mainly shots that follow characters in the narrative space – and fixed shots, while retaining its pensive state. This restrained dynamism and the dependence on the following shot, does not fail to underline that the banality of life goes on and that change is ever imminent. Furthermore, by structurally evading the use of close-ups, the framing of the narrative feels more distant. While this gives the narrative the feel as if it is just documenting a pre-existing reality, this refusal further underlines that the change, how subtle it may be, within and between characters is the true subject of the narrative. In this respect, the performances of each actor/actress has to be applauded as each and everyone brings the complexity of their characters in a naturalistic and subtle way to the fore.
The Kirishima Thing is a splendid crafted high-school narrative. With its thoughtful and restrained cinematography, it meticulously paints and investigates the complexity of the high-school social fabric, while showing the alienating effects this social hierarchy has on the ego. By subtly showing the distance between subject and ego/facade, the narrative confronts the spectator with the necessity and the difficulty to become more true to one’s subject. In this respect, The Kirishima Thing turns out to be – and not only for Japanese contexts – a very social relevant narrative that has to be seen.
Narra-note 1: By using the term subjective superficiality we mean that the narrative doesn’t focus on one or two characters, but on an ensemble of characters. By focusing on such ensemble, a narrative like The Kirishima Thing is unable to dive deeper into the psychology of one or two characters.
Narra-note 2: While the film-shooting scene at the end might seem strange at first, it nevertheless has to be read as a subversion of the hierarchy as such. It aims to show in face of a zombie-threat the imaginary playing-field loses all meaning. In other words, being true to oneself is more important than playing one’s facade in the mirroring hierarchy.