“A narrative that underlines Yamanaka’s talent and wets our appetite for her future narratives”
Each year, we review some directors that present their first feature film to the world. And while Yamanaka Yoko is such a director, she is not unlike the others. She didn’t wait for her film-school to be finished before crafting her first feature film. In fact, she made this movie after she had lost reason to go the school. While making this movie might very well be the answer to the problems she was faced with, we wonder if her cinematographic solution is any good.
After sharing a walk around the neighbourhood of the school with Aomi (Hiroyo Oshita) – a soccer player and Radiohead fan, Amiko (Aira Sunohara) falls in love. But while she has feelings for him, she keeps them to herself.
One day, Aomi runs away to Tokyo. After hearing the rumor that he lives together with his girlfriend, Amiko suddenly decides to find him and ask him to explain himself.
Amiko feels like she is nothing like the other girls and boys at her school. As she has grasped, in her own way, something of the deceptiveness fantasy and (the indulgence in) images has, her outlook on life, e.g. adulthood, is far from romanticized – one could call her view on life pessimistic or even fatalistic. Amiko subtly questions the possibility to attain happiness in one’s life and the foolishness of those high-school girls that are solely focused on appearances. Moreover, she realizes the inherent lies subjects tell themselves. And while these ideas touch upon the truth, Amiko’s speech and thoughts ultimately feel like as a sort of subjective protection.
But, as she realizes to some extent, she just as foolish. While she expresses her feelings for Aomi, a guy that seems to be not like the others, to her best friend Na, she does not confess her feelings to Aomi. This state of unrequited love – something that is quite typical in Japanese narrative about love – first leads to a sort of unharmful self-punishment – an aggressiveness turned towards herself. But eventually Amiko feels the urge to act. Even though her act of going to Tokyo can be considered as impulsive, it is nevertheless an act that is subjectively motivated.
Sadly, this journey results – we remain vague on purpose – in the unpleasant revelation and realization that she is structurally part of the captivating deceptiveness of the imaginary as well (subject-note 1). But because of Amiko’s enunciation about the inability of Japanese to dance spontaneously, this journey should also be taken as a critique of the shyness in Japanese society as well as a subtle critique of her own subjective position as grasped within the Japanese society of shyness.
One of the best features of Amiko is its use of narrating speech – speech that at the same point has some introspective qualities. What is so great about Yamanaka’s use of narrating speech is not that expresses Amiko’s subjectivity or guides the structure of narrative, but that the subjectivity that is evoked in this way influences certain aspects of the cinematography, e.g. the use of certain techniques (Cine-Note 1, Cine-note 2).
While Amiko‘s cinematography might feel like a fairly standard mixture of fixed shots and moving shots, it quickly turns into an energetic blend of techniques and quirky shot-compositions – a blend that truly highlights Yamanaka’s talent. The very energetic shot interjections – accompanied by drum-music – that Yamanaka integrates into the cinematographic whole, allows her to show her ability to apply various cinematographical techniques (like the zoom-in, jump-cuts, …) in a way that successfully enforces Amiko’s subjective position, her speech and her emotional state. And luckily, the use of such energetic ways to support the framing of Amiko’s mental world is not limited to these short interjections (Cine-note 3).
Of course, at some points, the cinematography feels rough around the edges – revealing the low-budget nature of the narrative (Cine-note 4, Sound-note 1). But with the limited tools, time and budget, Yamanaka still succeeded in crafting a satisfactory cinematographical composition that truly shows her artistic potential. Speaking of performances, some acting-performances are just decent, but Aira Sunohara’s natural performance is truly captivating – and turns the narrative in such an enjoyable ride.
Amiko is an enjoyable debut narrative. While the low-budget nature of the narrative is easily felt, Yamanaka was still able to combine an interesting subject-driven narrative with a cinematography that empowers the subjectivity the narrative wants to stage. More than an accomplished product, Amiko is a narrative that underlines Yamanaka’s talent and wets our appetite for her future narratives.
Subject-note 1: It is not difficult to see the resemblance of Amiko’s trajectory and Yamanaka’s trajectory. As our interview already revealed, Amiko and Yamanaka resemble each other in many ways. But we could even go further and tell that Amiko’s trajectory is the fictionalization of Yamanaka’s own experiences – a trajectory that in both instances left them in a way disillusioned.
Cine-Note 1: While the very first fixed shot introduce Amiko, it is the narrating speech and the very first following camera movement – both interlinked, that establishes Amiko ‘s subjectivity as central to the narrative’s structure.
Cine-Note 2: Pov-shots are often used to underline the subjective viewpoint of Amiko.
Cine-note 3: Yamanaka also shows her ability of using following shots in an artistic way.
Cine-note 4: One aspects that reveals the low-budget nature of the narrative is the occurrence of changed lighting between shots within a given scene.
Sound-note 1: At a certain moment, Yamanaka overlays a shot with speech-act that occurred earlier. This overlay – which includes the background-noise – exposes the limits Yamanaka was faced with.
And while the sound-quality is great for the most part, some shots do not have the same sound-quality as others within a certain scene. Cine-n