If there is one positive consequence of being in Japan is that it is way easier to discover new directors and their narratives. With such a big event as the 31th Tokyo International Film Festival, it was thus a given that we would catch a movie at the festival and review it for our readers. For this years TIFF coverage, we have the honor to review Shinzo Katayama’s debut narrative Siblings of the Cape.
When Yoshio (Yuya Matsuura) is fired from his job – due to his leg-injury – he sees no other option than the make money than to force his sister Mariko (Misa Wada), who has a mental disability, into prostitution. But things don’t go as planned.
Siblings of the Cape is a narrative that, by its very nature, is going to offend many people. The reason is simple, as Shinzo Katayama dares to touch upon a fundamental societal taboo, the crossroads where mental disability and sexuality, or more specific the engagement in the sexual act, meet. While some might have advised Katayama to stay away from such a theme, we should applaud Katayama’s boldness to address this theme in all its complexity.
While the act of Yoshio, her cripple brother – his choice to sell his mentally disabled sister to horny men – cannot in any way be morally justified, one cannot remain blind to the positive subjective effects Mariko’s work as prostitute has. Before being forced to have sex, a forcing that opened a path for Mariko to indulge in sexual satisfaction, Mariko was nothing more than a frustrated and depressed human being – a human-being chained and locked up in her brother’s house. Furthermore, the shift in Mariko’s drawings – first black, then colourful – underlines this positive evolution.
But even though one cannot remain blind to the subjective effects sexual satisfaction sorts – a satisfaction of the masturbatory order, her subjective evolution is entangled in various complex and unsolvable problems. Siblings of the Cape shows first and foremost one fundamental problem that mental disability often poses: the divide between the mental capacity and the matured body. Even though Mariko’s body is mature, the mental disability problematizes the possibility of taking responsibility and foresee possible consequences related to the fully functional mature body. While Mariko happily indulges in what she calls her “work”, it is evident that she is not fully understands her function and that she is not able to grasp the consequences her work as such can have. That Mariko does not fully understand her function as such, is also underlined by the subtle revelations that she does not understand the true value of money, despite understanding that money has value.
Furthermore, Mariko cannot express herself in language, her means to communicate limited to one-word sentences – often she finds pleasure in repeating words as such, drawings, bursts of frustration, and running away. All these aspects reveal but one one thing: Mariko has no other option than to depend on others. Mariko had no means to consciously choose to work as a prostitute – she was forced and her fateful (re-)encounter with sexual pleasure did the rest. But – and this is also important – without her brother, Mariko would lose herself in pleasure as such.
The beauty of Siblings of the Cape, besides not shying away from showing nudity and sexuality, is to be found in the fact that the narrative does not provide an unequivocal answer for the fundamental crossroads it uncovers. On the contrary, the narrative agitates people by presenting the spectator with the following fundamental question: Is it morally sound to let someone who has no means to grasp her function indulge in sexual pleasure if that indulgence effects a positive subjective change?
As said above, the cinematography does not shy away to show the sexual act as such. And while this visual choice might offend people, this choice – this choice to show Mariko’s masturbatory pleasure – is central in the narrative’s goal to confront the spectator with its question concerning pleasure and subjective. But while the cinematography guides the spectator towards that question, its confronting nature is generated by the utterly fabulous performance of Misa Wada, who portrays Mariko in such a believable and natural way, and the chemistry between and Yuya Matsuura who plays Toshio.
Siblings of the Cape is an extraordinary narrative. It’s extra-ordinariness does not only stem from the fact that Katayama dares to touch upon the crossroad between sexuality and mental disability – a crossroad beautifully brought to life by the fabulous Misa Wada and Yuya Matsuura, but also from its audacity to confront the spectator with a question that is nothing but a dilemma.