While Teppei Isobe only started making independent films in 2016, he did not need to wait that long to secure his first success. In 2018, his short Who Knows about My Life (2018) won Best picture in the Short Film Category at the SKIP CITY INTERNATIONAL D-Cinema FESTIVAL 2018. A year later, in 2019, Isobe presented his first feature-film, F Is for Future (2019), at the same festival and also at this year’s Nippon Connection.
Even though the final days of his high school life nears, Takuya Uemura (Yasuyuki Sakurai) has, in contrast to the other students, yet to form an idea about what to do with his future. One evening, after angering his teacher at the life-consultancy meeting, he meets up with his friends at a local board-game bar.
They speak about parents, who after the passing of a child, unlock their child’s phone to check everything and make a pact that if one of them would die the others would get rid of their ‘embarrassing’ belongings. And then, sometime later, Takuya’s friend, Takagi (Kei Nakado), dies in a traffic accident.
It is not only that Takuya has not arrived at thinking about it, but also that he has, all this time, evaded thinking about what to do with his future. Takuya’s statement, ‘I’ll figure something out’, is an empty statement – a statement without an enunciating subject – and underlines his continued evasion of addressing the question of which position he, as subject, can realize within the larger society. The way he distances himself from his concerned mother (Emi Mori) and sister Kyoko (Rina Sakuragi) further corroborates the fundamental evasion of introspection that marks his subject (psycho-note 1).
But Takuya is not without desire. The object of his desire, as a dream-sequence reveals, is Kanzaki (Karen), a girl in his class. This revelation allows us to reformulate his failure to confront his future path. If Takuya does not think about his future path, it is because he has failed to employ his desire. The fundamental evasion is not so much the evasion of thinking about his future but the evasion of taking his own subjective desire seriously. Due to this, his desire is unable to become a guiding principle for his future path (Narra-note 2).
How can we understand Takuya’s act of getting his friends together to keep their promise of protecting each other’s privacy after death? It is – and this is fundamental – an act within societal reality. While Takuya up until now evaded to take subjective responsibility for his current conduct, his choice to keep the promise brings his subject, while minimal, into play. As Takagi’s death enabled Takuya to do a minimal subjective act, one can wonder if the presence of death will also enable him to take a decision concerning his future.
The actual act of burning Takagi’s embarrassing belongings, for that matter, is more than just an act that fulfils the promise they made. The act must be understood as a social moment of mourning, a personalized funeral rite dedicated to their deceased friend.
Another aspect worthy to mention concerns the naturalness of the conversations. Many conversations in the narrative are in some way or another marked by a lack of smoothness or, to qualify the speech-interactions even better, a certain awkwardness (Narra-note 1). It is due to this naturalness – a naturalness born from the performances and emphasized by the fixity that marks the cinematography – that Isobe succeeds in delivering such a pleasing exploration in the relational fabric of the Japanese high-school society.
While Isobe’s composes F is for Future with a mix of fixed shots and temperate following moving shots, the overall composition of the narrative favours fixity. This fixity, as already mentioned above, is instrumental in making the conversational naturalness, so beautifully stages by the actors and actresses, truly shine.
F is For Future is restraint exploration of the impact of death, the difficulty to act upon one’s desire seriously, and the problem some subjects have in finding a direction in their life. Isobe’s restraint is evident in his composition as well as in the a-dramatic way he approaches his subject matter. It is due to these two aspects that Takuya’s trajectory of minimal subjective change becomes pleasingly sensible and succeeds in resonating with the struggles of desire the spectator might have endured in the past. In short, an impressive debut by Teppei Isobe.
Narra-note 1: The naturalness of the conversations is function of the natural integration of silence within speech-interactions.
Psycho-note 1: While it is a radical interpretation, Takuya’s sleeping can be read as a symptom. The act of sleeping is a ‘physical’ refusal of thinking about his future place in society.
Narra-note 2: Even when he tries to sway her like in his dream, the way he tries it reveals a lack of investment in his desire.