“Igarashi Akiko does prove herself to be a new fresh voice in the Japanese sci-fi genre and a director to watch.”
From 2012 onward, the Osaka Asian Film Festival has provided a platform named ‘The Indie Forum’ where spectators can see the projects of new and upcoming talent. This year, amazing indies like ‘Love and Goodbye and Hawaii’ ‘Swaying Mariko’ and ‘Bamy’ were screened at the festival. And while most upcoming talent is male, there were also some female directors showing of their work. One of these female directors was Igarashi Akiko, who debuted with her first full-length feature film, ‘Visualized hearts’.
The story of ‘Visualized hearts’ takes place in a university in Kobe, where researchers are conducting experiments to try to visualize human hearts (kokoro). One day, an accident happens, which leads to the cancellation of the research. Masaki, send to give official word of the cancellation, feels immediately attracted to Aoi, the wife of the professor who lost his consciousness in the accident. And then, Masaka sees Aoi’s visualized heart.
From the moment it becomes clear that the machine also visualizes the image of someone in one’s mental representation of his surroundings – besides the subject’s mind, we are in the middle of questioning the veracity of human connection. As it is revealed that the mental image of another person who is desired is not the same as the person itself, the dimension of the deceptive image in human relations is brought to the fore: who we desire, is our image of that person and not the person itself. But the influence our deceptive image of others has on how the other experience himself is not ignored in the narrative.
The visualisation of the subject’s mind (kokoro) on the other hand is a visualization one’s own being – body included, able to appear and disappear. The narrative nevertheless implies that it is primarily the hidden desire of one’s mind that gets visualized – enabling a confrontation between the hidden desire as visualized and the person who represses this desire. In this way, the narrative also questions the veracity of a fitting relation between our mind (kokoro) and the person we think we are or who we want to be in relation to others. And while the various ideas we summed up are sensibly brought to the fore in this slightly too abstract narrative, the narrative’s conclusion lacks clearness, focus and thus emotional power.
While fixed shots are present in the cinematography of Visualized Hearts, the cinematography is framed with a great sense of movement, creating some impressive lengthy shots. The fluidity of the cinematography grasps the spectator’s attention and shifts his attention in a natural way. But there are some problems to note at the level of the sound design – sound levels changing dramatically between shots, ambient noise muffling some conversations.
The narrative space, for the most part bland empty interiors, is painted in slightly washed-out colours and often revels itself in darkness, bringing the impersonal atmosphere of the laboratory in a rather curious way to the fore. While the impersonal atmosphere of the laboratory is further evoked by the often rational behaviour of each character – expressing emotion mainly when success or failure at the level of the experiment befalls, there is enough subtlety and sincerity in the emotional expressions when they happen.
While ‘Visualized hearts’ is ambitious considering the complex themes it wants to express, it is nevertheless a flawed narrative in the end. It loses itself somewhat in its own abstractness and the sound-problems hold back the otherwise very fluid cinematography. Notwithstanding these problems, Igarashi Akiko does prove herself to be a new fresh voice in the Japanese sci-fi genre and a director to watch.