In recent years, the amount of manga-adaptations has increased, but, more than anything, these adaptations have ended up being merely disappointing cash-ins. Yet, since fan-bases exists, making such adaptations is, from an economical perspective, a safe bed.
Luckily, not all manga-adaptations fail, like Mika Ninagawa’s Helter Skelter (2012) among others reveal. Another narrative that reveals that manga-adaptations can be great and quite entertaining is Yuichi Sato’s Kasane, which was based on Daruma Matsuura’s manga of the same name.
At the funeral service of her mother who was a legendary actress, Kasane Fuchi (Kyoko Yoshine) is approached by Kingo Habuto (Tadanobu Asano), a talent agent. While, at first, he only seems to invite her to see a play, his true intention is revealed when he asks her to replace the attractive Nina Tanzawa (Tao Tsuchiya [Rurouni Kenshin: Kyoto Inferno (2014)]).
Nina Tanzawa is far from pleased with this news, especially after seeing the facial scar that Fuchi Kasane has. After pushing her on the ground, she grabs a hold of Kasane’s lipstick, a gift of her late mother, and forcefully puts it on her. Suddenly, in a fit of rage, Kasane kisses Nina. A kiss that radically changes their fate.
The narrative of Kasane can be read as an elaboration of the importance of the imaginary in our social life. The first aspect that Yuichi Sato’s narrative touches upon is the importance of attractiveness in those fields, like theatre, where the (female) subject is supposed to be visually consumed by the spectator. It is not that talent is unimportant, but the appreciation of talent is function of beauty, the beauty as appreciated by (the eyes of) others. Another element Kasane touches upon concerns the impact of the Other, the Other as eye, on the social movability of the subject. If Kasane is not able to do what she does, it is because the Other, this tormenting Other, personalized by Nina at certain moments, inhibits her. Kasane’s inferiority complex is a complex born from the interaction between this perceiving Other and Kasane as perceived subject.
It is thus not surprising that Kasane, when using the magical lipstick, changes the dynamic between her and this perceiving Other. By desiring and getting what she desires by kissing, i.e. the face of another, Kasane essentially circumvents the Other’s imposed inhibition. Without the horrible injury that marks her face, the tormenting Other is rendered powerless. The act of changing faces, initially, does not alter Kasane’s subjective position. But there is something addictive to the bodily image – it changes the tormenting Other into a mesmerized Other. The more she exchanges her face, the more she becomes narcissistically captured by or invested in Nina’s image (Narra-note 1). This image, since it radical changes the dynamic between her and the Other, enables Kasane to rewrite her ego, i.e. to rewrite herself as Nina, and to change her subjective functioning.
Kasane explores, in an engaging way, the psychological tension such exchange of faces brings about. While innocent at first, the borrowing of faces is, as is made apparent throughout the narrative, not without psychological effects (e.g. engendering feelings of envy) and not without conflict and psychological games. That this psychological tension and conflict is so palpable is mainly due to the great performances by Kyoko Yoshine and Tao Tsuchiya. Both actresses, having great chemistry, infuse the necessary drama into their acting so that their blossoming conflict of exploitation turns into an engaging experience.
Kasane, furthermore, provides a very interesting and suspenseful exploration of the (essentially narcissistic) dynamic between the imaginary and the subject, a dynamic that boils down to one simple question: will Kasane, once she has a taste for fame, be willing to give up Nina’s face? Additionally, on the background of the narrative, another question is answered: can a subject see beyond the image and see the true subject animating said bodily or facial image? Or differently formulated, can the image of a subject, an image perceived by others, completely hide the true subject that has adorned itself with that image (Narra-note 2)?
While the narrative of Kasane is told in a straightforward manner, it is not without its fine touches. Sato makes, for instance, good use of the narrating voice. While using a narrating voice can quickly become too explanatory, the sparingly used narrating voice in Kasane is effective in highlighting the fundamental impact the bodily-image has on the interaction between the subject and the other/Other, i.e. how the way the other perceive one as image enables on to changes one’s ego and comportment in the societal field.
The cinematographical composition of Kasane, while straightforward, stands out due to its subtle dynamism. By relying on cinematographical movement, blending all kinds of camera movement together in a fluid whole, Yuichi Sato succeeded in crafting an attractive and enticing composition. Of course, static shots or static moments are present as well, but these are, generally, only used to frame conversations between characters.
What heightens the visual pleasure of Kasane, is the great lighting and colour design. Be it in framing natural settings or theater sequences, the interaction between the natural lighting design and the great colour-design helps turning Kasane in a pleasing visual experience. But the most pleasing aspect of the lightning design is its compositional use, i.e. how the interplay between light and shadow is used to compose a given shot.
Sound and music are used effectively to create moments of tension. It is not a lingering kind of tension, but a kind of tension that only becomes sensible at specific times. In almost all cases, the musical accompaniment aids the acting performances, as its focused on empowering the tension between our two protagonists, Nina and Kasane, and the psychological tension within our protagonists. In truth, it is the interaction between the great acting-performances and the musical accompaniment that turns the twist-rich finale into such a pleasing experience.
While Kasane does not offer anything special at the level of the cinematography, the interplay between the musical accompaniment, colour-design, and the great acting performances turns the narrative into a truly pleasing ride that sensibly explores the narcissistic dynamic of the image/ego between the subject and the Other/other.
Narra-note 1: The fact that the image of the other can be ‘addictive’ is also underlined by the play Salome. Salome’s obsession with Jokanaan – the desire to kiss him and to be seen as someone he loves – resembles Kasane’s obsession with Nina’s face – her desire to kiss Nina and attain fame.
Narra-note 2: Even though, Kasane becomes Nina at the level of the image, the subject that animates this image is still Kasane. The frustration Nina expresses is exactly concerning this. When she calls Habuto her demand is nothing other than the demand that Kasane becomes Nina, not only in image but also in speech, her conscious discourse about herself.
Her frustration, nevertheless, hides a deeper fear, the fear that Kasane is going to steal her life or gain a life for herself with her beauty. The narrative, as if unfolds, explores, the very impact of seeing yourself as animated by another subject gain a life you would not be able to realize with your own facial features. Kasane thus shows that, while the image in the eye of the Other is of fundamental importance within our interaction with others, these interactions are, beyond the image, marked by our subjectivity.