Everyone who has followed Japanese cinema for the last couple of years will have heard of the acting and directing school Enbu seminar, who was responsible for the horror-comedy smash-hit One Cut of the Dead (2017). Last year, Enbu seminar produced another cinematographical narrative, Ryutaro Ninomiya’s third feature-film Minori On the Brink.
One day, near the beach of Kamakura, Minori (Minori Hagiwara) confronts Kei (Keitoku Ito), who was up until then having a conversation about konpa’s with his pals Chihiro (Koutatsu Terabayashi) and Hirose (Yuki Hirose), with his opportunistic behaviour towards her friend Rieko (Rieko Dote).
Minori on the Brink is anything but a traditional narrative. Even calling the narrative a slice-of-life narrative, which would in fact not be incorrect, would ignore the fact that the first concern of Ninomiya’s ensemble narrative is not the telling of a narrative, but the exploration of a central theme from various perspectives. The central theme explored in the narrative is nothing other than the theme of the imaginary as it is in play between men and woman. Or, put more correctly, Ninomiya explores how the dimension of the imaginary, which circles around the notion of the phallus, makes the interactions between men and women ambiguous and confusing, how this dimension instigates rivalry, and how these imaginary interactions, full of misunderstandings, affects, often via effects in the real, the subjectivity of those in play (Theme-note 1).
Already in the first conversation of the narrative, when Mai states to her friends Yoko and Shiori that, instead of her chest, her acting is her weapon, the dimension of the imaginary is made present (Psycho-note 1). The coyness Mai then talks about employing in relation to willing men like Tasuku does not only aim at making her attractive for the guy but also dupes the guy into believing he has phallic potential. In truth, in many cases, it is only by successfully duping the guy into such phallic belief that a woman for said guy becomes alluring (Society-note 1).
The second conversation of the narrative, the conversation between men, also subtle evokes the dimension of the imaginary. Here, the men dupe themselves in believing they have the phallus. They think, as phallus-bearers, that they can just choose the woman to self-satisfy themselves with. This this mistaken believe gives rise to sexual opportunism is beautifully underlined when Minori confronts Kei, one of the men, with the (traumatic/real) impact of his sexual opportunism – the attempted rape of Minori’s friend Rieko (Narra-note 1, Narra-note 2).
Another element that the narrative touches upon concerns the importance of the structure of society, the Other, for the imaginary play between men and women at the level of romance and lust and one’s coming-into-being as subject. When Minori, in a conversation with her grandmother, questions why it is unacceptable for a girl to walk around in the house without underwear, she actually questions the Japanese Other, the Other regulating the interactions between women and men via a variety of ideals (e.g. how girls should behave, how men should behave, … etc.). This questioning, as is underlined by the further conversation, underlines Minori’s feeling that she is out of place within the field defined by the Japanese Other as such.
Minori does not only feel out of place in the Other, she has yet to find her subjective desire, a desire that directs her own trajectory in this problematic Other (Narra-note 3). Her fight against male opportunism is not only a fight against the Other that perpetuates such opportunism, but also against the Other as cause of her subjective emptiness.
Many other characters in Minori On The Brink are also marked by this subjective emptiness and lack of desire. Alcohol consumption, masturbation, hitting on woman for some masturbatory pleasure, all these acts focused on securing a little bit of pleasure also aim to deal with the fundamental emptiness that marks their subject. What Ninomiya ultimately shows with Minori on the Brink is how the search for quick masturbatory pleasure and the superficial indulgence in the phallic fantasy, both supported by the Other, makes the male subject blind for what truly counts: the subjectivity of the female other. It is this blindness that makes it impossible for male as well as female subjects to attain, with respect to the other sex, a position that takes their subjectivity seriously (Narra-note 4).
The pleasing dynamic cinematographical composition of Minori On the Brink has no other purpose than give the framing of Minori’s subjective trajectory a sense of realism, a sense of being a document. This sense of realism is mainly attained by relying on camera shakiness and temporally long shots, semi-fixed as well lingering moving shots (cine-note 1).
Besides evoking a sense of documentary realism, the temporally long shots (used to frame the many conversations of the narrative) emphasizes the acting as such. The temporally long shots, in fact, give the stage to the actors/actresses to either empower or problematize the cinematographically evoked realism. Luckily, in Minori On the Brink, the acting performances succeed by their very naturalness to empower the narrative’s thematical exploration. The performance that stands out the most is of course the powerful but well-balanced performance of Minori Hagiwara.
The aspect of realism is also emphasized by the very content that is framed. The composition is, in fact, littered with what we call shots of mundane acts. What is important is that these moments – and this makes them more than just actors’ workshop exercises – puts the very subjective emptiness of the characters sensibly on display. These moments are not meant to propel the narrative forward, but to allow this emptiness, so central to the thematical exploration, to become sensible for the spectator.
Minori on The Brink is anything but a traditional narrative; it is an exploration of how the dimension of the imaginary derails human interactions, how a subject’s entanglement with the imaginary leads him to value his own small moments of pleasure over encountering the other as truly other, as subject. Minori on The Brink might not be an easy movie to watch, as Ninomiya’s successfully confronts spectator with the subjective emptiness of the various characters, but it remains one of the most powerful confrontations with the violence of the imaginary.
Theme-note 1: There is another thematic element the narrative touches upon: the impact of bullying. Bullying is, in our view, also closely related with the dimension of the imaginary, the dimension where rivalry – me or the other – thrives.
Psycho-note 1: That a woman’s chest can be a seductive weapon is also function of the imaginary. Seduction, in truth, only function within the imaginary field. While a woman’s chest is of course real, being seduced by it is strictly function of the male subject’s imaginary.
Society-note 1: This coyness has the same dynamic as the acting-dumb trend in Japan. When a girl acts dumb in order to be seen as cute and appealing to the other sex, she only becomes appealing because she allows the man to believe he can be her phallic complement.
Narra-note 1: Later in the narrative, one of the guys states that he dislikes strong-willed women. In other words, he dislikes women whose comportment do not allow to him to belief in his imaginary phallic power.
Narra-note 2: At one point in the narrative, we also meet three guys who are, at least in their experience, unable to play the imaginary game between men and women. While this position – a position of castration – opens the possibility to reconsider the importance of subjectivity as such, that is not what happens at all. The guy venting his frustration, in fact, transforms his imaginary injury (i.e. his inability to play along in the phallic game) in an imaginary hate for female cuteness.
Narra-note 3: Minori’s subjective emptiness as well as her anger is, as evoked in the narrative, linked with the highly problematic relation she had with her dad. In Minori’s case, we can assume that the traumatic relation to her father has profoundly impacted the way she orients herself within the social fabric.
Narra-note 4: When Minori asks Rieko if she would still like her if her face was disfigured, she asks her if she likes her for who she is or for how she looks like. Minori’s question is, within the narrative, the first vocalization that concerns subjectivity as such.
Cine-note 1: Or, in other words, if it is possible, Ninomiya prefers to avoid using cuts.