For this Short Movie Time, we want to focus on the work of Yu Shibuya. While has made various short movies and one feature film, Cicada (2014), in the past, we decided to review one of his most recent short-movie narrative, Repeat After Me.
We also have the opportunity to include the narrative in his entirety after our review for your viewing pleasure.
The narrative of Repeat After Me concerns Yoshi (Yu Shibuya), an English conversation teacher. Despite his solitary monotonous life – a single turtle his only conversational partner at home, he breaks his comfortable monotony by taking Meg (Emily Snowden), a single mother, and her daughter Hannah (Mina Snowden) to an amusement park. Will this ripple in his monotony, also ripple his buried emotions?
Repeat After Me introduces a well-known difference between westerners and Japanese, the westerner’s ability to express emotions in contrast with the Japanese’s problem of expressing emotions as its narrative background. While this difference is more complex than it seems – westerners, for instance, also have problems of knowing what they feel, this difference can be understood as function of Japanese societal expectations concerning indirect communication.
Nevertheless, the narrative concerns the fact that beyond the directness or the indirectness of a certain language, a subject always faces problems discerning what he feels or put more correctly, to discern his desire. Meg’s kiss puts the question of Yoshi’s desire on the foreground. As it is a question he did not dare to pose to himself, which is revealed earlier in the narrative, his only answer to her kiss is an awkward and irresolvable hesitation (Narra-note 1 (spoiler)).
What’s also pleasing are the subtleties present in the narrative’s structure, e.g. the revelation that John (John Ladue), Yoshi’s colleague, hates his job, Yoshi’s uneasiness to hug Meg, and the visual confirmation of the domestic violence through Hana. These subtleties do not fail to underline Yu Shibuya’s talent as screenwriter.
The cinematography of Repeat after me consists of a fixed framed part and a moving part. This moving part, this moving sequence is found. This sequence of movement is successful, by the very movement as such, in laying the groundwork for the joy of our trio, the joy captured in the frame, to become sensible and moving (Cine-note 1). The joy of our trio is only to become truly moving for the spectator via the musical accompaniment, the beautiful and unrushed piano-pieces, that supports the unfolding of Repeat After Me.
Despite some roughness in the acting, it is the naturalness of the acting and of the acted interactions that is noteworthy. This naturalness can be felt at different moments, but is most sensible felt in the central moment of the narrative, i.e. Meg’s kiss and the awkwardness that follows. Within the cinematographical composition, one can say that it is only by way of the naturalness of the acting, as captured by the gaze of the camera, that the piano-music is able to exert its power.
Yu Shibuya’s Repeat After Me is truly a great short-narrative. The reason for this is to be found in the way in which the narrative, through the combination of acting, music and cinematography, is able to frame the deceptive nature of our ego or, in other words, the very need for the subject to come into touch with his own desire in a moving way. Let us hope that Yu Shibuya does not stop crafting such naturally touching narratives.
Cine-note 1: Note that this sequence eventually becomes somewhat dream-like. While our interpretation might go far, one can read in this atmosphere the evocation of the dream-situation that the coupling of Yoshi and Meg means for Hana.
Narra-note 1: The second central moment of the narrative concerns Yoshi’s breakdown. Note that it is not English as such that forces this breakdown, but the confrontation with his feelings and the reality of his subjective position, that this sentence forces.