After Kazuyoshi Kumakiri (Sketches of Kaitan City, 2010), Mipo O (The Light Shines Only There, 2014), Nobuhiro Yamashita (Over The Fence, 2016), Sho Miyake, known from his wonderful Playback (2012) is the latest director tackling a novel of the late novelist Yasushi Sato. As subjective passiveness marks the oeuvre of Yasushi Sato, we wonder if Miyake can bring the complexities of being a subject sensible to the fore.
Even though Boku (Emoto Tasuke) has a part-time job at a bookstore, he is not really invested in taking up the responsibilities (e.g. being absent without warning and regret, …) that come with his position. One night, co-worker Sachiko Mizuki (Ishibashi Shizuka), who feels attracted to him, invites Boku for drinking that night, but Boku oversleeps and fails to keep his promise. Instead, he goes out to drink with his roommate, Shizuo (Sometani Shota), a jobless guy living of benefits. Despite this false start, Sachiko finds her way in Boku’s and eventually also Shizuo’s life.
Even though And Your Bird Can Sing can be read as a romance narrative, it is better to approach, by reading the structure of its unfolding, the narrative as a meditation on the problematic dimension of expression one’s subjective position. One could contend that, by utilizing Boku as narrating voice – a voice dictating some beats of the narrative – and by externalizing his inner voice at two points in the narrative, that Boku’s subjectivity is made accessible for the spectator. But, alas, beyond those the inner-voice externalizations, the spectator is served the opposite. Especially by way of the device of the narrating voice, some of Boku’s subjectivity is revealed as inaccessible, inaccessible for the spectator, but also – and this constitutes the minor scandal of And Your Bird Can Fly – for Boku himself.
While it may be clear to the spectator that Boku is ‘lost’ at a subjective level, i.e. failing to insert himself in an acceptable manner in the responsibilities of relationships within Japanese society, the reason of this senseless emptiness and its related drifting on the numbing pleasures of alcohol remain opaque to the spectator. His recourse to white lies and the way he confesses the truth – a way of confessing devoid of his own implication – renders his discourse empty of formative speech, speech that would be able to reveal some of his (problematic) subjectivity to the other (Narra-note 1). Because Boku avoids taking position as subject in his societal reality – the spectator never allowed to feel his desire, he eventually puts Sachiko’s position in relation to him into question – leaving the question of her position unanswered (Narra-note 2).
Shizuo’s subjective position, for that matter, a position devoid of subjective direction but not without a floating on alcoholic pleasures, is also rendered opaque to the spectator (Narra-note 3). For example, while one short fragment shows Shizuo looking for a job, the narrative resists contextualizing this moment, leaving the spectator guessing why. And this is not the only time that the narrative leaves things unsaid and forces the spectator to read between the lines. In fact, And your Bird Can Fly relies at various moments on vague associative elements to imply a certain reason without corroboration or a certain event that has happened without showing it or referring to it (Narra-note 4). The narrative’s resistance – a resistance dictating the way the narrative is structured – to explain certain subjective moments is instrumental in evoking the opaqueness of our characters’ subjectivity. In other words, the narrative is structured in such a way so that our understanding of the main characters remains problematic.
Let us also note that the conversations/interactions between Boku and Shizuo are rather empty – interactions more focused on pleasure than on subjectivity. This leaves both ‘friends’, in essence, opaque to each other. Even though they share pleasure in alcoholic beverages, they ultimately find in the numbing they seek in alcohol, an auto-erotic pleasure. Due to this avoidance of taking a subjective stand, Sachiko’s position, as she enters Boku’s and Shizuo’s life, remains undetermined – “A bunch of stuff I can’t figure out”. Even though her touching Boku was a subjective act, an act revealing her subjective desire, she is not allowed to figure out her position within the triangle she forms with Boku and Shizuo.
And Your Bird Can Fly does not fail to sensibly evoke the honesty of Sachiko’s attraction to Boku and infuse a subtle heartwarming hopefulness in their interactions – be it sexual or conversational. These momentary pleasurable moments – little touching moments – form a contrast with the subjective senselessness that drifts Boku towards the solace of alcohol. In those moments of romance, the directionless of life and floating on auto-erotic alcoholic pleasure seems to have no place. The lighthearted interactions between the trio function in very much the same way – while they may be empty by nature, they suppress the emptiness marking their subjectivity. One can see, as is implied by both cases, that it is the relational that gives meaning/sense, not the alcohol. Relational meaning is, as a matter of fact, shown to be easily lost in the concatenation of emptying glasses full of alcoholic pleasure. This tension, the tension between relational meaning and an antithetical solo enjoyment of alcohol, structures the unfolding of the narrative.
The enjoyment derived from alcoholic – a joyous meeting mediated by alcoholic consumption, hinders the expression of subjectivity or, put more correctly, hinders the possibility of a meeting between subjects as such. But even beyond the pleasure – be it one sexual or alcoholic in nature – Boku seem to fail to meet the subject of Sachiko. On the rhythmic wave of pleasure, the active drift to the numbing and passive joys of alcohol, Boku’s subjective passiveness, his failure to realize a subjective position, endangers the field of romance he has entered. The question then becomes if Boku can overcome this subjective passiveness that structures his non-committing position in society (Narra-note 5, Narra-note 6).
What stands out the most in the narrative’s cinematographical mix is the fluidity and the elegancy by which following shots are applied in the otherwise semi-fixed composition (Cine-note 1). If fixity or semi-fixity is applied in the narrative, it generally frames moments where ‘radical’ movement is not present, in contrast to the following shots that do follow the ‘radical’ movement of the various characters. Subtle spatial movement is used in the cinematographical mix as well – often to shift emphasis within a semi-fixed shot.
The framing of the different narrative spaces is supported by a rich but slightly subdued colour palette – something that is especially evident in night-time scenes. As the nuanced colours blend with each other on the screen, the framed narrative space gets soaked in a moodiness reverberating the senseless emptiness of the lives they are leading. The subtle use of warmer colours, used in order to frame Boku’s and Sachiko’s first romantic interaction, momentarily introduces a beyond the senseless emptiness: the blooming of romance, romance to be understood as that what gives direction (Colour-note 1, Acting-note 1).
Another element instrumental in the moodiness of the narrative is the use of subtle musical pieces. At one point, Miyake uses music as a compositional device, enabling Sachiko’s touching of Boku to be become punctuated and, by being punctuated meaningful on a subjective level.
While And Your Bird Can Sing touches upon various dimensions (e.g. the problematic nature of auto-erotic enjoyment that hampers inter-subjectivity and the emptiness of speech) in a sensible way, the narrative could have been more powerful if the turning-points – the two defining subjective acts – of the narrative were more dramatically emphasized. Due to this lack of sensibly underlining their performative dimension, the dimension of subjectivity so central to the narrative is unable to realize its full cathartic potential. Despite this failure, we should in no way forget the daring and fruitful choice of structure Miyake made in his narrative. By rendering the subjectivity of his protagonists as opaque as possible to the spectator, Miyake is able to successfully highlight the difficulties of realizing a subjective position, like a position of desire within a relational context. Beyond Sachiko’s performative touch, the enjoyment beyond inter-subjectivity, and the feeling of unrealized meetings, the true message of And Your Bird Can Sing is nothing other than the fact that ‘sense’ (to be understood as meaning as well as direction) is only be found in inter-subjective relationships.
Narra-note 1: This is especially obvious in the way he apologizes. The fact that his ‘sorry’ is devoid of his implication is emphasized by his failure to direct, for instance by making eye-contact, his apology to the person concerned.
Narra-note 2: He fails to take his responsibility as a clerk in the bookstore and avoids revealing his position of desire in relation to Sachiko.
Narra-note 3: Note that this fragment is the only fragment implying he’s searching for a job. As such, we should read this act as a momentary act, devoid of any subjective urgency and necessity.
Narra-note 4: This is most clearly sensible in the way Sachiko’s resigning in the bookstore is revealed. While one can imagine that the very reason of her resigning concerns the awkward position she would have in the shop were both her ex-lover, the boss, and her new lover, Boku, are working, this is never explicitly corroborated.
Narra-note 5: While it is not really emphasized in a cinematographical way, Boku indirectly reveals his subjective desire for Sachiko when he hits Moriguchi, his co-worker, after he was badmouthing her and their boss.
Narra-note 6: The second time the narrative externalizes Boku’s inner-voice, the truth of his desire, a desire unfulfilled due to his failure to take a subjective stand, is sensible revealed.
Cine-Note 1: There is also one jump-cut in the narrative that feels at odd with the cinematographical flow. The oddness of this shot is born from the very fact that it is applied only once.
Colour-note 1: Note that these subtle warm colours are only used at Sachiko’s and Boku’s first romantic moment. As the narrative unfolds, one feels that the what was found in that moment – the seed of a relationship – fails to become fully realized as the narrative progresses.
Acting-note 1: Much of the heartwarming emotions the narrative is able to evoke is function of Ishibashi Shizuka’s charming presence and her amazing performance.