Short Movie Time: Carpe Diem (2019) review

Introduction 

It’s again time for another Short Movie Time. This time we review a short movie who already gathered some awards at last year’s Yamagata International Movie Festival: Carpe Diem by the Ohara brothers (Ken and Go Ohara).

Review

Yuko (Akari Kakimoto), a high school girl, is sick of her life. Besides harming herself with a Swiss knife, she keeps thinking of wanting to die. One day, on the platform of a local train station, she encounters Aya (Aya Marsh). Aya’s demeanor fascinates Yuko and, without giving it much thought, she decides to follow her.

Eventually she ends up in Shibuya and is led by Aya into the hand of a shady gangster-like man called Watanabe (Hiroho Kanemori). Watanabe, who mistakenly takes Yuko for high school student who prostitutes herself, takes her to a hotel. Not wanting to have sex with him, she decides to escape.

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The main aspect that Carpe Diem (‘seize the day’) as a narrative exploits is the fact that an encounter can impact one’s subjectivity and can change one’s direction in life. It is the very encounter with Aya that makes Yuko act in a way she has not done before. Before this encounter, Yuko was but a troubled youth absentmindedly wandering in her own labyrinth of depression. The encounter makes her perform an act, an act of following. While it may not be clear, her act constitutes, without her realizing it, a radical break with the lack of direction that marked the aggression towards herself. Even if Yuko’s act is only caused by a mere superficial attraction towards Aya, her act has orientation, an orientation that will radically change her former position.

It is, as a matter of fact, this act of following that sets in motion her other decisive act: her escape. This escape coupled with the theft of Watanabe’s bag, a bag holding the precious Swiss knife Watanabe confiscated from her, forces her upon a violent journey that will confront her with life and death. It’s this confrontation with violence, or better, her resistance to be subjected to violence as well as her resort to violence that will force her to reassess her own position of desiring death. The narrative, in essence, depicts the subtle shift from violence directed to oneself towards violence directed to the other. While the framing of this subjective shift is already enjoyable, Carpe Diem’s surprising narrative conclusion turns this short movie into a truly impressive short-movie (Narra-note 1).

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The cinematography of Carpe Diem is a fluid flowing concatenation of shots that does not fail to underline – whenever needed – the emotions of the characters in question. The fluidity of the cinematographical composition is especially sensible in the way movement has been applied. While fixed shots/semi-fixed shots are used to emphasize emotions of certain characters, we contend that the evocation of emotion in Carpe Diem is primarily function of the interplay between thoughtful cinematographical movement, fitting music, and some fine acting (Cine-note 1).

This interplay is also the reason why Carpe Diem boasts some moments of cinematographical poetry. While such visual poetry is always function of the association of signifiers evoked by a certain composition, the Ohara bros show how cinematographical movement – and to a lesser degree accompanying music – empowers this association of signifiers. One example of such poetry concerns the sequence on the train-bridge. In this sequence the Ohara bros, with their fine sense of composition, are able to give the association between Yuko’s ‘I wanna die’ and the train riding away from her a touching and evocative power.

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The interplay between movement, music and acting is also what makes the latter half of the narrative – i.e. Yuko’s escape – exciting. Even though the latter part of the narrative is not marked by any real tension, the cinematographical interplay keeps the spectator, who wants to know the conclusion of Yuko’s violent adventure, engaged at all times.

Tetsuro Imai, the director of photography, has made sure that the framing of the narrative feels natural but aesthetically pleasing. The visually pleasing naturalness is caused by the subtlety of Tetsuro Imai‘s approach to colour and lightning. While this subtle approach is sensible in every shot, it is most evident in the hotel-sequence.

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Carpe Diem is a truly pleasant short-narrative by Go Ohara and Ken Ohara. By using the element of life-changing encounters, the Ohara brothers succeeded in crafting an engaging narrative about how violence directed to oneself can evolve into a violence towards others. If Carpe Diem can be taken as an indication of the directorial future of the Ohara brothers, then their future is bright.

Notes

Narra-note 1: The narrative does generate various questions that it leaves unanswered.

Cine-note 1: Following shots, due to their nature, are also used to underline certain acts, like Yuko’s sudden decision to follow Aya and how Yuko follows Aya on the journey to Shibuya.

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