Takashi Haga and Sho Suzuki are no strangers to one another. Before teaming up as directors for this narrative, both already worked on together on Suzuki’s thesis film Border (2011) and Marina Tsukada’s film festival hit Kara no Aji (2016) – Haga as cinematographer and Suzuki as assistant director. Their latest cooperation already impressed audiences at its world premiere at the SKIP CITY INTERNATIONAL D-Cinema FESTIVAL 2019, where it received the audience award, but can their narrative also please international audiences? In our view, yes, it can.
Yoko (Nanami Kasamatsu) and her older brother Kenji (Satoshi Iwago) have been living together alone ever since their parents died. Kenji is set to marry Kaho (Hachi Nekome), but Yoko discovers that he has been dating another woman in the meantime. Armed with the camera of her friend Xiaomei (Yobi), Yoko decides to gather evidence of Kenji’s affair.
One day, she musters up the courage and approaches the mysterious woman called Misa (Yui Murata) at a cafe, but instead of asking her straight-away to break up with her brother she asks her to explain why she is together with her brother. While Misa does not really answer Yoko’s question, she does state that she loves Kenji and will not give him up.
Even though Me and my Brother’s Mistress seemingly explores the mess Kenji has made of his romantic life, the true theme of the narrative has nothing to do with the reality of affairs. What Suzuki and Haga’s narrative explores is the importance of having human way-points as to be able to question oneself at the level of one’s own sex and at the level of one’s desire.
This theme becomes immediately palpable when we analyze the questions Yoko poses to Misa – ‘Why are you with my brother?’ and ‘What do you think of my brother?’. While these questions can be reformulated as ‘What attracts you in my brother?’ and ‘What makes you desire my brother?’, these reformulations fail to underline that what Yoko actually questions is nothing other than the relation between man and woman as such. What she asks with her questions is, in our view, the following: what is it for a woman to be attracted to a man?
This question, which underlies Yoko’s curiosity in Misa, underlines that what is at stake is nothing other than Yoko’s femininity as such. Her desire to question the relation between Yumi and Kenji reveals her unconscious desire to explore the riddle of her own femininity, an exploration that will help her with her coming-into-being as female subject. While Yoko initially sees Misa as a disruptive element, an element disrupting the happiness between Kenji and the motherly Kaho, Misa soon transforms into someone who, by virtue of having enamored her brother, enables her to explore what it means to be a woman for a man as well as who she, as woman, wants to become (Psycho-note 1, Narra-note 1 (spoiler)).
It is this possibility of exploring her own subjectivity and finding her own subjective desire, both driven by the riddle of her own femininity, that causes Yoko not to confront her brother with his misconduct and to express, to her own surprise, a wish to stop the marriage between Kenji and Kaho. Yoko’s sudden wish to stop her brother’s marriage is thus not because she thinks Misa is a better match for her brother, but because Misa, acting as a point of reference for Yoko, is a better match for her (current subjective position).
The composition of Me and My Brother’s mistress consists out of a balanced mix of static moments and dynamic moments. Haga and Suzuki’s composition, due to his thoughtful way of concatenating static shots and moving shots, has a fluid flow and is very easy to watch.
Haga and Suzuki also opted to include a narrating voice within their composition. The narrating voice in Me and My Brother’s Mistress does, in fact, not narrate, but is used to make a variety Yoko’s inner thoughts explicit. The narrating voice gives us, in other words, an insight in how Yoko subjectively experience things (e.g. her brother’s conduct). While such use of a narrating voice often tends to over-explain things or feel forced, Haga and Suzuki’s thoughtful implementation avoids these pitfalls and even heightens the spectator’s involvement in Yoko’s subjective position.
Another aspect that makes Me and My Brother’s Mistress so enjoyable concerns the acting performances as such. Even though each actor/actress gives a great performance, it is, when all is said and done, Nanami Kasamatsu’s natural and captivating performance that carries the narrative. That she is able to carry the narrative is not only because of her captivating naturalness, but also because she allows, by virtue of the chemistry she has with the other actors/actresses, the other actresses, like Yobi and Yui Murata, shine in their own right.
Me and my Brother’s Mistress is not only amazing narrative due to its flowing cinematographical composition and Nanami Kasamatsu’s amazing performance, but also because it touches, in a heartwarming way, upon the very importance of having human way-points in one’s search of a desire and one’s exploration of one’s subject as sexed.
Psycho-note 1: If there is a reason why Kaho’s position does not allow Yoko to explore her own femininity, it is because Kaho realizes the position of the mother/wife, a position devoid of sexual desire.
Misa’s position as ‘mistress’ – and the fact she is spotted with Kenji around love-hotels by Yoko – puts this element of sexual desire between man and woman on the forefront. It is this confrontation with sexual desire, with the sexual dimension between man and woman, that allows Yoko, as female subject, to question what it is to be a woman.
Narra-note 1: When Kaho states that she is not afraid of losing Kenji, because she offers him what he wants, Kaho directly touches upon Yoko’s question of what it is to be a woman for a man. It is this point, which reveals that Kaho too can be a point of reference, a human waypoint, in her nascent search for her desire, that causes Yoko to refrain from her plan to stop her brother’s marriage.
Initially, Yoko feels attracted to Misa because she seems to offer what Kaho is not able to give him. But Kaho’s statement underlines that the inverse is also true. The reason why Kenji relation to Misa is just an affair, is because Misa, despite what she offers him, does not give him what Kaho, as female subject, gives him.