While short-movies and feature films are vastly different, short-movies can often be an indicator of directorial talent. It is for this reason alone that we, in our search for new Japanese directorial talent, also explore Japanese short-movies. This time we review Yuki Hatayama’s Sense of Sin.
(Screened at this year’s Japanese Film Festival Hamburg).
One day, while walking along the river, Funaki (Yoji Yamada) hears a woman scream. He does not hesitate and runs off to help her. The mysterious woman thanks him for aiding her and lending her some of his clothes. Not that much later, the woman, Ami (Maki Shena), who could not have known where he lived, appears at his doorstep to return his clothes.
The narrating voice that opens Sense Of Sin immediately underlines Funaki’s subjective suffering. His suffering finds its source in an unresolved childhood trauma, as implied by the recurrent evocative imagery of a girl (Rian Yamamoto), Funaki as a boy (Airu Masaki), and a mysterious masked figure. His subjective constraint – i.e. his inability to leave/escape town – and his alcohol abuse are – and this is important – not function of the trauma, but of the unresolved state of his traumatic sin.
The question that Funaki poses concerning the cause of the sick-making breeze is a false question. The choice between causal factors, the town or himself, hides the fact that the town can only be perceived as a cause by the subject as such. His subjective suffering thus colours, in some rare instances literally, the space where he as subject moves. The sick-making breeze is thus also function of the unresolved state of his traumatic sin.
What makes Sense Of Sin so engaging is the mystery that surrounds the true nature of Funaki’s sin. Via recurring traumatic fragments, fragments featuring the mysterious monster figure, Funaki’s sin is teased without being revealed. Eventually the mysterious masked figure’s (obvious) identity is revealed. With a subtle visual association, Funaki is revealed as being the masked figure of sin. But only when Ami appears for the second time – i.e. the narrative’s ending-sequence , will Funaki be forced to confront the true nature of his sin he has been trying to evade by abusing alcohol. This forced confrontation is framed in a powerful way and, in our view, the highlight of this short movie.
With his fine sense of writing Hatayama shows that he is able to command subtle poetry that touches the spectator without alienating him from the meaning these utterances aim to evoke. The evocative (and metaphoric) dimension of the uttered speech is furthermore empowered by well-chosen but often sublte imagery. The imagery makes the poetic dimension of speech resounds stronger. Even when the imagery is not used in this way, Hatayama does not forget to fill his composition with beautiful and evocative shots.
Music – generally music that uses traditional Japanese instruments – is used in a very effective way. Especially in the horror-drama ending sequence, i.e. the sequence of forced confrontation, music succeeds in making the visual composition emotionally powerful. The sound-design, in contrast, is plagued by inconsistency. Luckily, these inconsistencies are not too problematic.
The cinematographical composition of Sense of Sin is marked by fluid movement (cine-note 1). This movement, by way of its fluidity and naturalness, gives Hatayama’s composition a pleasing and enticing visual dynamism. The successful application of such cinematographical dynamism of course suggests Hatayama has talent as a director.
Sense of Sin is a very powerful short-narrative by Yūki Hatayama. By blending horror, drama, and mystery, Hatayama succeeded in crafting a creative and moving exploration of the inability of a subject to escape his unresolved trauma as well as his guilt. As Sense of Sin successfully hints at Hatayama’s talent as director, we’re eager to see what Hatayama has in store for us in the future.
Cine-note 1: Even though the composition of the narrative is fluid, one can still find some minor rough cinematographical moments. Some of these rougher moments appear to be conscious cinematographical choices. Nevertheless, they do not add anything substantial to the narrative.