Each year, the Osaka Asian film Festival proves itself to be not only a treasure island for Asian cinema, but also for Japanese cinema. This year is not different, boasting splendid narratives like Daisuke Miyazaki’s Videophobia (2019), Kishi Kentaro’s Hammock (2018), and Takuya Misawa’s The Murders of Oiso (2019). Should Aya Miyazaki’s feature debut Good-bye be added to that list or not?
One day, after quitting her job, Sakura Ueno (Mayuko Fukuda) decides, following her friend’s request, to work temporarily in a nursery school. In her first week, working the nightshift, she meets Ai (-), who is often picked up late by her father, Shindo (Kohei Ikeue). Due to resemblance of Shindo to her father, Sakura develops some feelings for Shindo. One night, while preparing dinner for him and his daughter, Shindo kisses her.
Miyazaki’s Good-bye concerns, in Freudian terms, an oedipal ‘drama’ or, in better words, an unresolved Oedipus complex. The unconscious question that drives Sakura is, in truth, the question concerning the imaginary phallus within the familial triangle (Psycho-note 1).
When Sakura Ueno quits her work, what she escapes from is not the repetition of her job of such – e.g. the copying of documents, but the fact that her job does not give her any sense of importance. Her work – and this is what she is conscious of – can be done by anyone. She is, in other words, replaceable. Moreover, even without her the company will function without a problem.
It is therefore not strange that, due to her work at the nursery school, Sakura feels attracted to realize a position where she feels as if she is not replaceable. This position does not concern the position of a nursery schoolteacher on which the children depend for structure as such, but the missing position within the familial constellation of Ai and Shindo. Sakura, in other words, feels compelled to realize, within this constellation, a position akin to the position of a mother/wife – a position only reliable in relation to a father/husband.
At another level, the dependence of the children on her reminds her of her own relation of dependence with her mother (Asako Kobayashi), e.g. how she brushed her hair, and leads her to question the role of her mother as wife. But that is not all, Sakura’s new job also subtly leads her to question the position of the father, the man that is her father, and the relation or the lack of such relation between them. All the fragments of memories about him – be it the memories of her mother or of Sakura herself, subtly underline that the biological notion of fatherhood is far removed from the symbolic dimension of fatherhood.
But there is more. The aspect that most vividly reignites her image/memories of her father is the sweet smell of cherry flavored Swisser cigars that both Shindo and her father share. This association allows us to put Sakura’s interest into Shindo in another perspective. Not only does Sakura attempt to realize a position akin to the position of a mother/wife within this constellation, she also, unconsciously, sees Shindo as a reimagined version of her father. Put in other words, in Shindo she seemingly finds the possibility to love, beyond Shindo, a certain fantasmatic version of her father, a father she felt she never had (Narra-note 1, Narra-note 2 (spoiler)). The shocking and unexpected end of Good-bye – an ending that will leave you speechless, underlines this oedipal dynamic most clearly.
The framing of Good-bye consists of a pretty standard mix – providing the usual mix between fixity and motion. While at a cinematographical level the narrative does not offer anything special, the narrative’s visual composition does, due to its dynamism, offer a pleasant visual support for the unfolding of the narrative.
The true strength of the narrative lies, in fact, somewhere else. It lies in the successful capturing of the children as they are, i.e. their playfulness, their spontaneousness, and their pureness. By successfully framing children in a natural way – note the use of shaky framing, Miyazaki is immediately able to infuse her narrative with a variety of endearing and heartwarming moments.
Aya Miyazaki’s splendid narrative will shock spectators. Not because it offers gore, gallons of blood and an abundance of decapitations, but due to uncompromising way by which Miyazaki explores the oedipal problematic. With a fine sense of subtlety – at the level of the script and directing, Miyazaki guides Sakura and the spectator towards the unresolved truth of her childhood, an unresolved truth she, apparently, has no problem in accepting.
Psycho-note 1: Sakura is as much concerned with the problem of being the phallus for a fatherly figure as well as the phallic quality the fatherly figure has as such.
Narra-note 1: When Sakura notes that Shindo’s handwriting is nice, one should not take this too literally. While his handwriting may very well be nice, the fact that Sakura notices this is function of the association between Shindo and Sakura’s father.
Narra-note 2: That Sakura and Shindo do not go further than a kiss – that it thus ends with a good-bye – is caused by Sakura’s perceived failure to replace Sakura’s mother. She is, once again, confronted with her replaceability and with the fact that, for the child, the mother as symbolic instance remains irreplaceable.