While Minami Goto might still be a relative unknown name in Japanese cinema, it hasn’t stopped her from directing a myriad of short films and screen them at various international film-festivals. In 2017, her short script ‘Breakers’ won the Avex digital award, a script she then turned into a short-narrative.
One day, students discover an entire staircase adorned with umbrella’s. On the sea of umbrella’s, the message “ take your life back” is painted. The students love the illegal art-installation, but the teachers are annoyed by what is already the third prank this month.
While the teachers are at a loss about the identity of the prankster, his close friends (e.g. Nana (Sara Shida) and Keigo (Riku Hagiwara) for instance) know that Yuta (Tatsuomi Hamada), a boy inspired by revolutionary action, is responsible (Narra-note 1). Eventually the group of friends plan to rebel at the school honours assembly.
One of the strong points of Breakers as a narrative is that it shows the interactions adolescents have with each other and with teachers in a natural way. More concretely, the narrative highlights in a crystal clear way the moments of tension that exist between peers – a tension born from the imaginary, born from the discrepancy between one’s self-image and the oppressive projected image (of themselves) by others – and the moments of tension in relation to authority (e.g. teachers as representatives of Japanese society). While the latter, as the uniform-inspection that opens the narrative evokes, also concerns the dimension of the image, it concerns the image of uniformity.
The prank of the staircase, the prank of the flag, and the ultimate rebellion have no other purpose than to urge the adolescents to take an active role in the act of becoming, to not let their parents or their teachers decide who they have to become in the act of becoming. Or, in more abstract words, to separate oneself from the image they want you to identify with
In this way, the message is, first and foremost, a message against the oppression present in Japanese high-school life and in the larger Japanese society. The imaginary tensions described above are function of the Japanese Other – the Other that values grades above all, fails to take sexual harassment seriously, forces uniformity in preparation of adult life, … etc.. This societal critique is supported by an atmosphere of joy and pleasure (Narra-note 2). Even though one could criticize that Breakers frames being young in a romanticized manner, it does not fail to communicate the joy of innocently transgressing certain boundaries in an sensible and heartfelt way. Furthermore, Breakers, in a de-romanticizing and slightly sour-tasting turn, also reveals how easily the voice of the youth, even if it cannot be silenced, is ignored in order to safeguard the status-que of a problematic system.
The cinematography of Breakers consist of a very nice blend of fluid moving shots, following shots, and fixed shots (Cine-note 1). There are some nice shot-compositions to note and depth-of-field is applied in a very thoughtful way throughout the narrative.
The narrative has a great musical choice. The rock-music fits the narrative’s opening and the themes of the narrative perfectly. The effect of this music is best understood in the way it pull the spectator into the narrative. While the verbally expressed sentence “If nobody will do it, then I have to do it” that opens the narrative is fundamental to grab the spectator’s attention and the rocking sounds consolidate by pulling the spectator right into the imagery of the narrative. The other musical supports successfully empower the evocation of joy that innocently transgressing certain boundaries brings with it. This positive vive is further emphasized by the warm colour scheme, an effect beyond its mere function of making the narrative space pleasing for the eye (cine-note 2).
Beautifully framed and supported by nice acting, Breakers has become a beautiful ode to the truth that only the youth of today can change the society of tomorrow to suit their specific subjectivity in the act of its becoming. This truth is not only a passive evocation, but, as the narrative is structured around the contrast between positivity/hope and the oppressing conformity, an urgent message addressed to the Japanese youth of today. With Breakers, Minami Goto reveals her rich talent as writer and director, positioning herself in pole position to become a new strong voice in Japanese cinema.
Cine-note 1: Some shots combine spatial movement with following movement.
Narra-note 1: His interest in revolutionary action is revealed through the posters of Jeanne D’arc, Che Guevarra that adorn his room and his book concerning the French revolution.
While one could say that Jeanne D’arc was no revolutionary in the strict sense of the world, she still did something that can be qualified as revolutionary.
Narra-note 2: It is Nana’s reason to join the rebellion that make the anti-societal sentiment clear. Or, in other words, her confrontation with Mami’s death by overworking made her realize that she cannot stay passive with respect to the societal Other.
Cine-note 2: A minor critique on the cinematography is the minor ripple created by two temporal shifts in the narrative. The way, in both instances, the cut is applied feels a tiny bit too abrupt for our liking.