While Yamato (California), in our view, was one if not the best movie of 2016 – read our review here – it seems almost impossible for Daisuke Miyazaki to top his first full-length narrative and provide another narrative that is as moving and inspirational. Nevertheless, with the talent Miyazaki has shown in his previous narrative, we’re eager to review his second full length feature film, Tourism.
Nina (Nina Endo), Kenji (Takayugi Yanagi), and Su (Sumire), three young people, are living together in an apartment. They are living their normal lives until Nina wins travel tickets for two to any destination in the world. Kenji – eager to go – quickly denies his desire so that the girls can go together. After he advises against going to Yemen and Honduras – two destinations they selected at random, he gives them their blessing for the final random destination: Singapore.
Tourism is a narrative that is all about capturing daily life and framing the mundane. The fact that Miyazaki’s latest is a narrative of the mundane is first and foremost apparent in the interactions between our main characters as such. The various conversations they have, e.g. about hummus, have no other function than framing the ordinariness of their lives. This focus on the mundane is also evident by the lengthy interview segments. These segments, which further deepening the distinct images of our three main characters, only deepen our understanding of how their daily life is structured – and additionally which dreams they have.
While Tourism, as the title already implies, eventually turns into a travel narrative – Nina and Su going on their first international trip together – the focus on the mundane persists. This is immediately obvious in the way Miyazaki’s frames their trip, a framing focusing on their experiences at the airport (e.g. the problem with cosmetics, the fact of almost missing their airplane, … ) and the various experiences they have as they explore Singapore.
But while the focus on the mundane is beautiful and even moving in the initial stages of the narrative, this beauty fades when the narrative frames Su and Nina’s sightseeing, instead revealing a narrative emptiness – a lack of a ‘subjectivity’ that structures the narrative like Sakura’s subjectivity in Yamato (California). This emptiness is only partially resolved when, in the final stages of the narrative, Nina meets local people. These meetings highlight in a heartwarming way the beauty of meeting new people on one’s travels and the beauty of cultural differences as such. Furthermore, at given moments – moments usually accompanied by music – some spectators might feel a subtle ‘thankful sadness’, a ‘certain nostalgia’ concerning their own first international trip.
To frame Tourism‘s narrative, Miyazaki mostly relies on shaky shots, even though exceptions, most notable when indoor conversations and interview segments are framed, can be found throughout the narrative (Cine-note 1). Notwithstanding these exceptions, the reliance on shakiness enables Miyazaki to evoke a less mediated framing of his narrative reality – seemingly documenting a given ‘reality’ – and make the narrative space more sensibly present (Cine-note 2).
By taking a closer look at Tourism‘s cinematography, it quickly becomes evident that two other cinematograpical elements – two elements Miyazaki evidently loves – are also instrumental in allowing the spectator a closer narrative experience: long temporal shots and camera movement. But contrary to the effect of Tourism‘s shaky framing, these elements do not emphasizes the narrative space as such but the presence of the main characters and their comportment within the narrative space. The ‘reality’ of their presence is especially emphasized by the interview segments, enabling the spectator, as they are in the process of constructing an image of the three main characters, to approach these characters as the narrative ‘documents’ their daily reality.
All these elements reveal that Miyazaki does not aim to hide behind compositional complexity, but instead prefers a cinematographical simplicity that is focused on characters and is thus carried by the various characters that inhabit the framed narrative space as such (Cine-note 3). Therefore it is sad to see that in the framing of the sightseeing, strange cinematographical choices have been made. These odd choices – in our view partly caused by time and budget constraints – disturb the rhythm and balance of the otherwise simple and character-focused cinematography (Cine note 4, Acting-note 1).
When non-diegetic music is applied in Tourism, it mostly consist out of simple and unobtrusive mood pieces. In some instances, these mood pieces help evoke the thankful sadness already mentioned before. Nevertheless, unevenness can also be found at the level of the sound. In some instances, the clarity of the sound of one shot is at odds with with the other shots that make up a given scene.
Tourism is a narrative that is hampered by two elements: its (forced?) focus on sightseeing and its low-budget nature. While the opening stages of the narrative beautifully introduces the mundane lives of the three main characters, the travel-narrative in the latter part is but a hollow experience as Miyazaki is forced to leave his character-driven narrative for a sightseeing narrative. The sightseeing narrative is furthermore hampered by various cinematographical problems, that can only be attributed to low-budget and time constraints. So while Miyazaki’s talent is evident at various instances in the narrative, he is, due to the aforementioned constraints, not able to exploit his strengths in cinematography and narrative and deliver another moving narrative in the veins of Yamato (California). In short, this is not Daisuke Miyazaki at his finest.
Cine-note 1: Fixed shots are also used to frame a given landscape. The insertion of such shots aim to underline the passing of time. Furthermore, fluid moving shots are sometimes applied as well.
Cine-note 2: Of course, the composition of shots as such emphasizes the fictionality of the narrative. The act of framing will always be a putting-reality-into-narrative, i.e. fictionalizing reality. In truth, there is no direct access to reality as such. We, as humans, frame our own reality, structure our own reality by way of how language has structured us.
Cine-note 3: Miyazaki also uses jump-cuts in the cinematographical mix. Furthermore, he is able to create a very interesting compositional dynamic with mobile phone footage.
Cine-note 4: The low-budget is also apparent in the shooting of the shots as such. The shots often have – especially when people look at the presence of the camera – no other quality than vacation-movie quality. Such shots have no other effect than to break the framing of the fictionality of the narrative as such.
Acting-note 1: The cinematographical simplicity logically puts weight on the performances of the actors/actresses as such. And Nina Endo, Sumire, and Takayugi Yanagi do not disappoint. With natural performances – their naturalness especially evident in the interview segments – the bring their mundane existence sensible and relate-able to the fore.