If there is one theme that Yukari Sakamoto questions in her narratives, it must be the theme of love. This is not only apparent in her contribution for U-ki Yamoto’s 21st Century Girl (2018) which explores the question “Do you love me? Can you lose me?” in the neurotic’s subjective economy, but also in her latest narrative, For Rei.
Rei (An Ogawa), a university student studying philosophy, is somewhat introvert. Due to this, she has difficulty expressing her opinions in a convincing way. She has been together with Nakamura (Amon Hirai) for a while. Their relation is calm but devoid of passion. One might, Rei suddenly has the wish to meet her biological father (Seiji Kinoshita).
For Rei is an evocative and somewhat philosophical narrative concerning the function of fatherhood as well the importance of that aspect, i.e. love, that binds subjects at an imaginary-symbolic level. Both themes are brought into play through the concept of the gaze/look (manazashi).
Rei, when asked to comment on the theory of Merleau-Ponty and Klee’s thoughts, immediately utilizes the concept of the gaze to highlight the discomfort she feels in the social field. She formulates that the gaze of the other or as situated in the other as something that frightens her, something that she wants to avoid. Her reading, her interpretation of Merleau-Ponty, in fact, approximates how Lacan conceptualizes the gaze, as a stain in the visual field that generates anxiety.
Rei’s relation with Nakamura is calm but devoid of any physical attraction or passion. The fact that Rei call her boyfriend by his family name further emphasize that Rei, with respect to her boyfriend, keeps a safe distance. This distance has no other function that safeguarding her subjectivity, that subjectivity that is often called into presence by the gaze of the other. On a side note, due to this act of distancing, some spectators might feel Rei and Nakamura are mere friends living together.
The wish to meet the father comes, seemingly, out of nowhere. In other words, the reason why this wish suddenly bursts forth remains unclear. The first meeting between them is marked by awkwardness. This awkwardness vividly shows that the biological bond is radically different than the bond between subjects, the bond created through the exchange of signifiers.
But what does Rei attempt to gain from forming a bond with her biological father? She aims, in our view, to re-find the subjective gaze of the father. This gaze is not, as Rei underlines, the look with an uber-ich quality, but the look of the father with a real presence (Narra-note 1, psycho-note 1).
The narrative is structured in chapters. These chapters appear to refer to literary works. Chapter three, for instance, is an obvious reference to Yukio Mishima’s debut novel, Confessions of a Mask and chapter 5, a clear reference to Kenji Miyazawa’s Night of the Milky Way Railway. The narrative’s conclusion – can we call it a conclusion? – is evocative and impels the spectator to interpret the final act of Rei (Narra-note 2).
The cinematographical composition of For Rei is mainly characterized by fixity. But even if static shots are the main component by which Sakamoto visually composes her narrative, For Rei is not devoid of cinematographical movement. In truth, some of the fluid floating tracking movements Sakamoto utilizes are truly wonderful – and show or reveal her sensibility to the art of cinema. This sensibility is also felt in the very composition of shots, i.e. in the way Sakamoto utilizes the cinematographic frame as well as how she uses geometry within this frame – one could even contend that that some of these shot-compositions translate Rei’s difficulty with the gaze (of the spectator).
Concerning the musical accompaniment, we need to say that the piano pieces are used in a very effective way. Whenever such musical piece is applied, the sequence is given the power to touch the spectator as well as impel him, much like the evocative end, to interpret the mood and motivations of Rei.
Yukari Sakamoto’s For Rei is a great narrative. Not only because of Sakamoto’s fine sensibility in composing with cinematographical movement and her skill to artfully compose shots, but also because she knows how to use the evocative nature of language to tell/structure her story. In truth, it is due to the latter that Sakamoto’s narrative is able to become such a pleasing and moving questioning of fatherhood and the role of love in bringing subjects together.
Narra-note 1: Through her meetings, Rei does come to realize that the fatherly gaze she was seeking is already lost. The look of the father as real presence is, of course, attainable, but she cannot attain this gaze/look because she is not a child anymore. In other words, she needed the fatherly look when it was not there but has it – due to her own act of contacting her father – when it has outgrown its function.
Narra-note 2: Without spoiling too much, we can reveal that, in the finale of For Rei, Nakamura is put at the same level of her biological father. If both persons are put in the same position, it is because the question that troubles Rei in both of these relations is nothing other than the question of love.
Psycho-note 1: We would contend that the first kind of gaze evoked by Rei is structurally different from the second gaze she talked about.