Modern Love (2017) review

“A great narrative (…) [that] reveals Takuya Fukushima’s talent to craft refreshing narratives and to compose beautiful imagery.”

Introduction

Love is a universal and timeless thing. Murasaki Shikibu’s Tale of Genji, Chikamatsu Monzaemon’s The love Suicide at Sonezaki, Natsume Soseki’s Botchan, …, all those narratives concern love. Throughout the ages, writers and poets have incessantly written about love. And with the dawn of cinema, this preoccupation unsurprisingly found its way to the silver screen as well.

As human’s preoccupation with love is as old as culture itself – so much already said and shown about love and its effects – one might wonder if love and its effects can still be approached in a refreshing way. Takuya Fukushima’s Modern Love proves that one can only answer that question affirmatively.

Review

A new planet, Emanon, has been discovered by NASA. While an investigation, lead  by a Japanese professor named Tomine (Taiboku yūkō), is still ongoing, the discovery leads to a world-wide fad with many companies trying to capitalize on the discovery. On television, vlcsnap-2018-03-22-17h14m59s858Tomine hypothesizes that the current extreme global weather might be related with the presence of Emanon.

Mika (Azusa Inamura) studies at the lab of Theoretical Physics, led by Professor Maeda (Yôta Kawase). Her fellow assistants are Nakai (Hirohiko Machiyama) and Takayama (Mutsumi Satō). Mika combines her study with a part-time job at a Travel Agency. One day, a costumer (Kiichi Sonobe) asks for a plane ticket to Agartha, but Agartha – Mika as well as her gay colleague Shige (Yoshino Seichou) search for it – is not listed anywhere as a destination.

At a later moment, Mika confesses to Shige that she still hallucinates the voice of her ex Teru (Takahashi Takuro) and that she hadn’t had her period for five years (Psycho-note 1). After receiving a wooden brain as a present, vlcsnap-2018-03-22-17h15m14s841.pngMika suddenly starts having feelings of déjà vu’s and suddenly she meets someone who appears to be herself.

The narrative of Modern Love concerns, unsurprisingly, love within contemporary Japanese society, but approaches this theme in an atypical and inventive way by infusing sci-fi elements into the narrative. It is obvious that Fukushima, far from being interested in creating a sci-fi narrative, only uses these elements to investigate subjectivity in relation to love and romantic relationships. While this results in a narrative that doesn’t answer all the questions these elements actually raise, it allows Fukushima to make his vlcsnap-2018-03-22-17h16m59s186.pnginvestigation of subjectivity and love a more cognitive experience, an experience necessitating the interpretation of the spectator. In Modern Love speech is more important than emotion, even though natural emotion is subtly present throughout the narrative, ultimately culminating into a truly touching final.

That Fukushima tends to avoid the emotional route is most sensible in the way he structured his protagonist, Mika. She is characterized by a certain acceptance (to fate?) and a certain reluctance to change her life. The urgency for a subjective change is nevertheless symbolically evoked by the appearance and the expansion of the planet Emanon (Narra-note 1).

Eventually, as scenes of daily Japanese life pass by, the main thread of the narrative is unraveled: the intermingling of various world-lines and the existence of multiple Mika’s (Narra-note 2). vlcsnap-2018-03-22-17h18m12s906This sci-fi element allows Fukushima to explore subjectivity in general and the ‘subjectivities’ of Mika in particular in a refreshing way (Acting-note 1). In general, Modern Love shows that our social environment – the others and the Other, i.e. the symbolic structure we are born in – defines who we are and that differences in this structure structurally leads to difference in subjectivity (Narra-note 3). In other words, our subjectivity is revealed as guided by those subjectivities that surround us – as those around Mika differ, so Mika differs.

Nevertheless, there is something that two of the Mika’s have in common: their subjective stasis – the third Mika, for that matter, only runs the risk of developing a such stasis. Love and desire, distance and alienation, the danger of losing oneself in another, the lack of closure. All those elements are brought into play by the mere aspect of Mika’s subjective stasis. vlcsnap-2018-03-22-17h18m46s622.pngAnd as Emanon rapidly expands, the subjective stasis of Mika becoming more and more problematical, Modern Love sharply underlines the need to make changes in one’s life – one way more drastic than the other – and to move on (Narra note 4).

It doesn’t take long to realize that the cinematography of Modern Love shows a preference for movement. While fixed shots are used – in most cases to focus on Mika, most shots are characterized by some form of motion. Some shots shift slightly in a trembling way, others move slowly in the narrative space as such, and others fluidly follow a character within the narrative space. This cinematographical blend, full of beautiful imagery, successfully frames the narrative in an enjoyable and engaging way; highlighting Fukushima’s talent as a director (cine-note 1). vlcsnap-2018-03-22-17h22m55s845.pngNevertheless, the use of moving shots also brings a danger for the editing department. In some instances, ‘cuts’ are visible, revealing that the shot was initially longer, but a part was deleted to better the flow of the imagery. Other elements that interfered with the overall flow of the cinematography are the fast-forwarding of images and the abruptness of some sound-transitions.

Modern Love is a great narrative and a refreshing take on love and lost love in contemporary times. By mixing sci-fi elements into the narrative, Fukushima is able to approach the theme of love in a more cognitive way, while retaining, due to his cinematographical approach and the chemistry between Azusa Inamura and Takahashi Takuro, the ability to move the spectator with the conclusion of his narrative and his message that it is only when lost love is able to be experienced as over, when closure is attained, that a new world can start to blossom. Modern Love reveals Takuya Fukushima’s talent to craft refreshing narratives and to compose beautiful imagery. In short, Fukushima shows a lot of promise.

eiga

Notes

Cine-Note 1: There is one long-take that is truly marvelous. The shot we are talking about is the first shot in the travel agency. This shot follow Shige in the narrative space of the agency. As Shige moves, the camera swirls through the narrative space around him, only to pause when he engages in conversation with others and Mika.

Acting-Note- 1: Even though some moments of acting are a bit less natural, we still want to applaud the performance of Azusa Inamura as Mika. Inamura is given a difficult task as Mika. She has to play three different Mika’s, interact with herself, and even talk with an imaginary voice.

Psycho-note 1: While the auditive hallucinations of Mika are not framed in accordance to psychotic experience, it is nevertheless a useful device to explore Mika’s subjectivity.

Narra-note 1: Mind that the need for subjective change does not come from within, but is caused by an external factor.

Narra-note 2: Note for instance the shift between formal and informal speech at work and the female language gay people in Japan use. Of course, the act of eating is a reoccurring presence.

Narra-note 3: If one looks and listens attentively, many subtle differences between the world-lines are discernible. The differences are not only present at the level of Mika but also at the level of those who surround her. For instance, in one world-line Shige is not a gay guy and in another Teru had mental problems.

Narra-note 4: Existence in the flow of signifiers is also touched upon in the narrative. As long one does not forget someone, in this instance Teru, he is alive in the symbolic. Parts of his story, even though no new signifiers are added to his narrative, still live on in the memories of another.

 

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