Rikiya Imaizumu, one of the leading director of romance narratives, is back with another one of her love stories. This time he brings the masterpiece ‘Just Only Love’, written by Naoki prize winner Mitsuyo Kakuta to the silver screen. Will this, once again, be a narrative about “love without a definitive correct answer”?
Teruko (Yukino Kishii), a 28-year-old office lady, has been in love with Mamoru or Mamo-chan (Ryo Narita [Chiwawa (2019), Fly Me To the Saitama (2019)]) ever since they met at a marriage party. Teruko’s focus on Mamoru’s happiness nevertheless leads her to neglect her work and even her friends. Her poor performance at work eventually causes her to be fired. But Teruko doesn’t care, as long as she can be with Mamoru. Mamoru seems to enjoy her presence, but has never expressed any love or interest in Teruko as subject.
Teruko, as is made clear from the very beginning of Just Only love, takes every opportunity to express her love. Each gesture towards Mamo-chan is an act of love. But such kind of act is not only a sign of her love, but also an invitation for Mamo-chan to love her back. The fact that Teruko takes every opportunity to express her love through acts reveals the following: the fact that she has organized her existence around Mamoru and his demands. Everything she does or says is in function of her Mamo-chan. Of course, this quickly problematizes her work as well as her social life (Narra-note 1, Narra-note 2). Even when, later in the narrative, Teruko becomes somewhat less dependent on her beloved, due to Mamoru refusal to contact her, his word is always successful in putting him back at the center of her life.
While Teruko gives love whenever called upon – she keeps on giving herself as lover in order to satisfy her beloved, Mamo-chan, not in love with her, ‘abuses’ her repeated expressions of love for his own benefit. The manipulative way he calls her love into action, the way he keeps his distance to her, and the cold way in which he limits her presence around him deprives her acts from the love they are fueled with and the love they ask for.
Teruko answers the demands of Mamoru as is they ask ‘Do you love me?’. Even though her acts constitute a resounding ‘yes’, Mamoru either reduces her expressions of love to mere practical answers that satisfy his needs or blatantly refuses the love her acts convey (Narra-note 3). In other words, Mamuro’s behaviour ignores the whole dimension of the love that marks the dynamic that demand installs between subjects. Moreover, he does not see that her over-considerate behaviour, which, as he explicitly states, bothers him at lot, is function of his own unresponsive and self-prioritizing attitude towards her expressions of love.
Mamoru has, in fact, behaved like that from the very beginning of their ‘romance’ which urges the spectator to question how on earth it is possible that Teruko fell in love with him. They do not fit. Their conversations are always marked by a certain level of awkwardness. This is due to the fact that Teruko is only focused on pleasing Mamoru – she does not talk about herself. And Mamoru never asks anything about her. He shows no interest in her as subject (Narra-note 4).
Teruko, of course, senses this. She is not blind to the fact that Mamoru does not really act as her lover and does not see her as his beloved. But that urges one to question why Teruko keeps on giving. Is it not because she keeps on harbouring the hope that her acts of love will turn Mamoru into her lover? Is that not also the reason why Teruko, despite fully grasping Yoko-chan’s warnings, is able to ignore her warnings?
The dimension of lacking consideration towards the one who takes the position of lover forms the main theme in Just Only Love. This dimension is not only present in Mamoru and Teruko’s relationship, but also in the one between Mamoru and Sumire (Noriko Eguchi) and the relationship between Yoko (Mai Fukagawa) and Nakahara Sei (Ryuya Wakaba [Dynamite Graffiti (2018)]). By exploring this dimension, Just only love touchingly reveals how one-sided love, as taken advantage of by the beloved – consciously or unconsciously, always ends up hurting the lover.
Just Only Love is framed with a sense of fixity and thus mainly relies on concatenating static shots for its cinematographic composition. Of course, cinematographical movement is present in the cinematographical mix as well. Movement, be it tracking or spatial, is either subtle or slow. The unhurried style of framing suits the comprehensive exploration of how a subject, a subject not taking the lover as subject into account, scars the subjectivity of the lover, because this style puts the emphasis on the performances of the actors/actresses as such.
Just Only Love becomes touching and impactful due to acting-performances. The narrative’s ability to touch the spectator, though supported by all performances, benefits the most from Yukino Kishii’s performance. Not only is she very expressive – presenting a wide range of facial expressions to evoke in a sensible way how Mamoru through his actions controls her emotions, but her layered performance injects the necessary emotional richness into the narrative so that the painful nature of failed romances can be sensibly evoked. It might thus not be an exaggeration to say that Kishii’s performance carries to narrative as a whole.
Another aspect concerns the narrating voice. This voice, besides establishing Teruko as the narrative’s main character, is generally used to guide the narrative. In some instances, Teruko’s narrating voice also introduces fragments of her thoughts. While subtle, these fragments show how Mamoru’s conduct puts Teruko’s ego into subtle turmoil and leads her, as a good hysteric, to question herself at the level of love, i.e. ‘I do everything for him. why does he not love me?’. It is, in fact, by adding this kind of narrating voice that the spectator is given the ability to measure the subjective impact that Mamoru’s behaviour has on Teruko.
Just Only Love is a touching exploration of how un-recruited love eventually scars subjectivity. While the cinematography is straight-forward, the unhurried fashion of framing gives the needed time and space for the actors/actresses to evoke how, psychoanalytically speaking, an element of non-understanding structures the relation between the sexes and how difficult it is to meet the other as other.
Narra-note 1: For instance, Teruko’s preoccupation with her mobile-phone is partially to blame for the decline in quality of her work. She craves to receive words from Mamoro and wants, at all time, to be ready to respond – responding too late might communicate a lack of love for him.
Narra-note 2: When an ex co-worker asks Teruko if the things she doesn’t care for when she’s in love also include herself, she touches upon the very problem of Teruko’s behaviour. In Teruko’s acts of love, she as subject is of no importance.
Narra-note 3: The latter, i.e. refusing the love her acts convey, is made evident when Mamoru invites Teruko for dinner to meet his ‘girlfriend’ Sumire Tsukakoshi. Of course, such refusal of her love, as expressed through her (over-)considerate behaviour makes her jealous.
But, as will become clear later on, the relation between Sumire and Mamoru has a somewhat similar dynamic as the one between Mamoru and Teruko and, for that matter, Yoko’s relation with Nakahara Sei.
Narra-note 4: Later in the narrative Mamoru will ask Teruko why she is so nice to him even though he has no likeable factors. This question is important due to the fact that it is the first time Mamoru urges Teruko to answer with her subjectivity – and not with loving acts.