When Hitoshi One (Love Strikes (2011) and Bakuman (2015)) accepted to direct Daisuke Miura’s Be My Baby in a few days and on a limited budget, he could never have though it would become such a massive national hit. Yet, despite its national success, One’s satirical exploration of relational dynamics has remained rather unknown internationally.
One night, Koij (Kenta Niikura) holds a casual party as his place. The goal of the party is to couple Osamu (Kenta Enya), a friend of Koji and Yuta (Takumi Matsuzawa), with Yuko (Yumi Goto), a girl Tomoko (Naoko Kawai), Koji’s girlfriend, and Kaori (Chihiro Shibata) know from work. Also present at the party are Takashi (Daisuke Sawamaru), a friend of Yuta and Koji’s brother Naoki (Yuki Ueda) and his girlfriend, Satomi (Aya Kunitake).
But what was supposed to be a great party ends in disappointment, but as becomes clear over the course of following two weeks the party leaves no person untouched, for better or worse.
Be My Baby offers a satirical exploration of the complex relational dynamics between young adults. It is therefore not surprising that Daisuke Miura’s script touches upon many things, like relational dependency, the clumsiness of making sexual advances, sexual dissatisfaction, infidelity, and the subtle misogyny that (often) marks the ideas male Japanese subjects have of relationships and the role of woman (Narra-note 1, Narra-note 2). While we could explore each aspect in detail, we decided to offer a reading of the dimension that plays a defining role in the very dynamics of romantic relationships as such: the imaginary (General-note 1).
The first thing that one notices is that Naoki’s girlfriend, Satomi, is not only excluded from the interactions between the guys but also from the interaction between the women. The reason why she finds herself excluded by the women is because she is not perceived as a semblable. Satomi’s exclusion is the first incident that underlines the predominance of the imaginary in relations and the connecting/ostracizing nature of empty speech. The women feel connected because the empty speech they share with each other engenders the feeling of being semblables (psycho-note 1).
One form of empty speech – a recurrent form throughout the entire narrative – is badmouthing. Badmouthing, as is beautifully shown by One, has no other goal than to please the egos of the willing participants and engender togetherness by verbally abusing/ravaging the image of a third person (Narra-note 3).
Another incident revealing the predominance of the imaginary is Koji and Yuta teasing of Yuko. Their teasing, aimed at confronting Yuko with her ugliness, exploits the mirror-like qualities of the imaginary for their own pleasure. They satisfy their ego and empower their feeling of being semblable, by teasingly reflecting their negative assessment of Yuko to her. Any attempt to deliver an imaginary injury through teasing pleases the egos of the participants.
Be my Baby also beautifully illustrates how the dimension of the imaginary is the dimension of seduction (e.g. Takashi’s preoccupation of impressing a girl with his shades) and of deception and self-deception. The latter is most prominently felt in the interactions of our two initial couples – i.e. Koji and Tomoko and Naoki and Satomi. Many of their conversations have, by utilizing the lie, no other aim to keep the equilibrium of the relation and avoid any form of expression of subjectivity. What makes the deception and self-deception so sensible for the spectator is that the ‘lies’ they exchange to maintain the equilibrium always echo something of the truth. Another element used to maintain the imaginary relational equilibrium is leaving things unsaid. But while the unsaid in one relation (e.g. Koij and Tomoko) aims to maintain the relational equilibrium, the same unsaid can in another relation (e.g. Koji and Naoki) serve, by virtue of being vocalized, serve the pleasuring of egos.
That playing within the imaginary is not without effects is evoked early on by the effect Koji’s overbearing treatment of Osamu has on him. Osamu’s sudden outburst of anger shows how Koji’s preoccupation with attaining pleasure and providing entertainment, by ignoring his refusal to participate, effaces him as subject. The problematic relation between the imaginary and subjectivity is also illustrated by the various relational conflicts in Be My Baby, like those between Naoki and Satomi. What causes each conflict, what causes the relation’s equilibrium to be disturbed, is nothing other than the ignoring the subjective position of one’s partner (Narra-note 4).
The aspect that defines the cinematographical composition of Be My Baby is the dynamic hand-held style of filming. While this style, of course, imbues the narrative with a certain naturalism, this documentary-styled approach also engenders the intimate atmosphere. The tremble of the camera emphasizes that, at a structural level, the spectator, who is forced in the position of voyeur, is given an intimate look into the interactions and dynamics between our young adults.
That Be My Baby succeeds in exploring the interactions and dynamics between the young adults in a natural and engaging way is due to the natural performances of the actors/actresses and the chemistry between them. The greatness of the performances highlights the fact that the naturalism marking One’s framing can only be fully realized by the performances of the actors/actresses within this frame.
But the naturalness of the performances also has another effect. It makes the characters and their flaws easily recognizable for the spectator and turns them, via their recognizability, into confronting mirrors of our own romantic conduct. As a result, One’s satirical narrative does not only allow us to recognize how the imaginary fundamentally marks us and our interactions with the opposite sex, but also subtly discover how we can avoid the pitfalls of our own over-investment in the imaginary.
One’s Be My Baby is an extraordinary narrative that offers one of the most dense and rich explorations of the complexity of the relational dynamics between the sexes. While the narrative has subtle comical flair, Be My Baby does not fail to confront the spectator with the two most important obstacles to romantic happiness: the refusal to take one’s own and the other’s subjective position into account (through deception or misogynistic conduct) and the unquenchable power of sexual desire (by having affairs or by ordering hookers).
Psycho-note 1: Empty speech means speech that does not concerns one’s subjectivity. With empty speech one pleasures the ego without bringing one’s subject in play.
Narra-note 1: While Tomoko is willing to go far in order to secure Koji’s love – changing whatever Koji says needs changing, obediently fulfilling any demand he might have, the failure of Koji to provide her what she desires, i.e. the signs of his love, eventually dries up her motivation to please him. His disrespectful way of treating her has, in other words, broken any kind of hope of ever receiving his love.
Narra-note 2: The dimension of misogyny is most vividly explored in the relation between Osamu and Yuko. Osamu treats Yuko not only as cash cow, sexual object, but also as his maid. Osamu transforms Yuko, in other words, into a submissive support for his fragile male ego.
This dimension of misogyny also marks Koji’s interactions with his girlfriend Tomoko. The exploitation of misogyny in this relation also underlines the fundamental link between misogyny and the fragile male ego.
What grounds the misogyny depicted in the narrative is, in our view, the overvaluation of the un-attainable imaginary phallus by these subjects. The male desire to be a master of a female subject is nothing more than an attempt to (ab)use the female subject as a tool to veil the lack of the imaginary phallus that marks him. Such desire, as should be clear, makes the male subject fundamentally dependent on the (abused) female subject.
General-note 1: That we do not emphasize that the characters of Be My Baby can be categorized as DQN, i.e. low-educated, low-income youngsters, is because the film is not about DQN as such, but about relational dynamics. The DQN is a narrative frame that allows Miura to unearth, with finer precision, the problematic dynamics of romantic relationships as such.
Narra-note 3: That badmouthing can only fail to please the egos of the participants and end up in conflict is made clear in the scene where Koji badmouths Takashi in front of his friend Yuta.
Narra-note 4: It is because Naoki fails to hear Satomi’s doubts about his relational fidelity in the questions that she asks that her doubts about him grow. Naoki, in other words, fails to hear what Satomi, as a subject, is really asking: “Do you love me; Do you want to lose me?”
Only when Satomi, as subject, expresses her doubts to Naoki, is she able to alleviate her worries and mend the equilibrium of their relationship. But it does not take long for Satomi’s doubts to resurface again and tremble the fragile equilibrium between them.