Even though Fukushima-born Ryuichi Hiroki might not be one of those names that attract audiences to the cinema, he does directed some noteworthy Japanese movies like Vibrator (2003), The Egoists (2011) Kabukicho Love Hotel (2015) and more recently It’s Boring Here, Pick Me Up (2018). Nevertheless, Side Job is somewhat different – and can even be called a passion project, as it was adapted by Hiroki from his own novel Kanojo no Jinsei wa Machigai Janai (2015).
5 years after the tsunami swept away her mother, Miyuki (Kumi Takiuchi), who works at the Fukushima City Hall, still lives in a temporary house with her father Osamu (Ken Mitsuishi). Osamu, even though he tries to put up a friendly face, is marked by a blend of depression and survivor’s guilt. Due to this emotional burden, he has stopped working as a farmer as well. In the weekends, Miyuki travels Tokyo by bus. While her father believes she takes English classes there, Miyuki actually works – her side job – in the adult industry.
In Ryuichi Hiroki’s Side Job the spectator is offered a somewhat voyeuristic look in the daily lives of various tsunami survivors, most notably Miyuki and Osamu. When we evoke the signifier ‘daily life’, we aim to say that the Hiroko does not shy away to frame non-meaningful actions of everyday life (Narra-note 1). By doing so, he emphasizes, straight from the beginning, that side job is, first and foremost, a naturalistic (but of course narrativized) portrait of the subjectivity of Miyuki and Osamu, Miyuki’s father, as well as an exploration of the position of Yuto (Tokio Emoto). This focus on subjectivity, on a subjectivity marked by Great East Japan Earthquake of 2011, ultimately means that the narrative focuses on relations and how these relations give place or fail to give place to the subject.
But the framing of these non-meaningful actions – a conscious choice on the part of the director – also goes beyond a mere grounding of the narrative as a naturalistic portrait of relational functioning. This framing juxtapositions the lingering impact of the past disaster with the monotony of every-day life. In other words, the rewritten social context of our survivors (i.e. those people who got confronted with loss on various levels), a context eventually marked by monotony and, in many cases, a certain subjective emptiness, becomes the vehicle to corroborate Miyuki’s feeling of a lack of future prospects and, in the case of Osamu, the guilt such event can cause (Narra-note 2, Narra-note 3).
Ryuichi Hiroki also succeeds in grounding his sober portrait of daughter and father within the larger context of the past disaster. While this context is, of course, evoked through Miyuki and Osamu’s movement – their interactions – within the narrative spaces, various contextualizing elements (e.g. the info given in the city hall, the ‘radiation’ meeting, … etc.) are more indirectly evoked, i.e. when the cinematographic gaze lingers away from Miyuki and Osamu. In this sense, Yuto’s narrative thread is less concerned with framing his subjective position – even though it is present, and more with sketching contextualizing issues various survivors are faced with. Another source of context is given by smaller side-stories, i.e. the narrative concerning the opportunistic swindler and the narrative concerning Ms. Sakai’s suicidal depression.
While the narrative remains vague about Miyuki’s reason for offering her mouth for sexual services, we are nevertheless enabled to make a guess. As it is evoked in the narrative, Miyuki’s sexual side job does not change the lack of satisfying relationships nor does it alter the fundamental lack of future prospects she feels. What this side-job does do is giving Miyuki some feeling of control. In other words, Miyuki finds in this sexual work a minimal subjective way to deal with the passiveness of having being subjected to a disaster (Narra-note 4, Narra-note 5).
This subtle passiveness is also sensibly in Osamu’s case. While he finds some pleasure by playing catch ball with Ryuhei and by playing pachinko, these escapes do not constitute an active dealing with his subjective situation – one could even posit pachinko as an escape, not only from the guilt, but also from actively working-through this guilt (Narra-note 6). Moreover, his gambling behaviour, a behaviour made possible by the compensation money he received from the government, and unemployment causes a tension between between Miyuki and her father. While Miyuki emphasizes time and time again that he has to pull himself together – i.e. stop gambling and get a job, the spectator is left with the feeling that Miyuki’s own act of pulling together is but a fragile bricolage that leaves her subjective emptiness untouched. Notwithstanding Miyuki’s own fragile position, the narrative’s unfolding does offer an answer to the question concerning the possibility for Osamu to change, however minimal, his current mode of life.
What is remarkable about the cinematography of Sidejob is the temporal length of the shots used to compose the unfolding of the narrative. From the very beginning of the narrative the temporal length of shots – be it fixed, fluidly moving or shaky following shots, dictates the deliberate tempo of the narrative. While the rather slow tempo, a tempo aided by the narrative’s musical accompaniment, supports the naturalistic feeling of the narrative’s framing as such – the formal level, it only does so by intermingling with two other cinematographical factors: the shakiness that comes to mark the mix between fixity and movement, and the drab and rather depressing colour-scheme (Cine-note 1, Music-note 1). The somewhat depressive colour-scheme, a scheme subtly resounding the subjective positions of our protagonists, also successfully turns a serene sequence of passing through the abandoned towns in Fukushima in a truly impressive sequence.
In contrast to this shakiness that characterizes the greater part of the narrative, there are also some nice artistic floating moving shots – the shots hovering over a certain landscape and those shots following the JR bus as it enters Tokyo – present in the unfolding of imagery. Nevertheless, due to Hiroki’s continued emphasis on framing moments of every-day life – those moments that, in this case, are ever marked with an lingering emptiness, the narrative retains its naturalistic atmosphere.
Because of the temporally long shots, the subject-within-context becomes a very important focus-point. In the case of Miyuki, who is due to this aspect revealed as the narrative’s prime main character, the cinematography keeps on emphasizing her gaze and how it communicates something of how she experiences her environment/her situation. Her experience, as the lack of her facial expressions imply, is marked by a directionless emptiness (Narra-note 7).
The emptiness, especially Miyuki’s, is furthermore emphasized by the sound-design. In the various narrative spaces, be it those spaces in Fukushima (e.g. Pachinko) or those in Tokyo (e.g. Shibuya), sounds are often drained of their power. The concatenation of muffled sounds and normal sounds do not fail to underline the lack of sounds that separates those sounds – a lack of sounds, a lack of speech that subtly reverberates the emptiness and the lack of meaningful relations. Notwithstanding this muffled approach the sound-design does not forget to highlight those speech-acts that have a subjective reverberation for its speaker, be it Miyuki or Osamu.
Side Job is a beautiful serene but moving narrative piece that, when all is said and done, concerns nothing other than the difficulty of finding a minimal solution that can guide one’s subjective position. While emptiness and monotony form integral parts of the narrative, the narratives of Miyuki and Osamu, narrative with truly moving moments, end with a subtle positive and hopeful note, as it highlights the structural possibility of the subject to positively direct, however small, the disturbed course of his becoming-a-subject. Without claiming at having said the truth of the impact of such event, Hiroki’s narrative excels in bringing the subjective impact such disastrous event can have sensibly and powerfully to the fore.
Narra-note 1: One such meaningful action concerns Miyuki paying her respects to her deceased mother at the self-imagined home-shrine.
Narra-note 2: Loss concerns first and foremost the loss of loved ones. But it also points to the fact that the survivors had to give up their house, their hometown, and instead live in temporary housing as well as giving up an essential dimension that guided their life, e.g. the work as farmer or as fisherman.
Narra-Note 3: The guilt Osamu feels is irrational in the sense that he gives himself the blame of his wife’s death. If he hadn’t met her in Sendai at the Tanabata festival, she would not have succumbed to the fate of the Tsunami.
Narra-note 4: One particular evocative sequence in the narrative is Miyuki’s second visit to Tokyo. In this sequence, Miyuki’s act – an act of finding control, evokes the traumatic link between death and water in such a way that it cannot but impact the spectator. One can argue that this action touches upon what formed the trauma for Miyuki.
Narra-note 5: While the flashback at the end of the narrative underlines indirectly Miyuki’s subjective choice for her work in the adult-entertainment sector, it also evokes Miyuki’s past experience of having no protection, an element often related to the trauma as such. This experience is of course related to the minimal solution of control she finds in her sexual work.
When her ex-boyfriend suddenly turns up, the question ultimately becomes if he can enable another solution, another way to force a (positive) difference at the level of her subject?
Narra-note 6: We should not forget to highlight that the fact that the body of Miyuki’s mother remains missing affects the possibility of the process of mourning. What is made clear later by Osamu’s narrative is that any process of subjective change has to incorporate an act that deals with the loss of one’s loved one.
Cine-Note 1: Note that because of the temporally long shots semi-fixity, following movement and spatial movement are often present in one shot as such.
Music-note 1: While musical accompaniment is present, it is only used at specific times in the narrative.
Narra-note 7: When riding the bus, Miyuki’s expression, her gaze directed to the scenery, remains dubious and the contents of her thinking obscure. The only thing one can feel in this look is that something is missing. It is this missing that constitutes her emptiness.
This emptiness can be called directionless because Miyuki is not able to perform a formative action that might change her subjective situation in a radical way. One could say that her final act is one that subtly open the road of finding some direction.