The Hardness of Avocado (2019) review [Camera Japan 2020]

Introduction

Winning an award at a respectable film festival can allows open some doors. For Yo Masaya, who won the Hikari TV Award at the 41st Pia Film Festival with his debut feature film one such door has opened: being screened at one of the most respectable Japanese Film Festivals of the low countries.

Camera Japan Festival

Review

One day, while perusing at Nitori, Mizuki Maehara (Mizuki Maehara), a young actor, asks his girlfriend, Midori Shimi(zu) (Asami Taga), what she wants to do the most now. She answers emotionless and without hesitation that the thing she wants to do the most is breaking up with him.

Not long thereafter Mizuki undertakes an attempt to get Shimi back, but she promptly refuses. The following night, during a drinking party with friends, he decides to wait one month for her. And then, by chance, he meets Shizuka Sasaki (Hiroko Hasegawa), a potential new love interest.

The Hardness of Avocado (2019) by Jo Masaya

What is the subjective problem that marks Mizuki? He is marked by a state of passive acceptance – whatever happens, happens. This state is sufficiently illustrated by the very ease by which he accepts Shimi’s wish to break-up, and the lackadaisical presence with which he auditions. What makes such state truly problematic is that he forgets to live his life, but allows life live him – he fails, rather ironically, to become the actor of his own life. The subject has, in other words, surrendered to what some might call fate – realized a fatalistic position, without even trying to bend fate in one’s benefit.

Mizuki’s first half-assed (and failed) attempt at getting her back illustrates both his state of passive acceptance and his first rebellion to this acceptance that marks him being. It is, as a matter of fact, in the very half-assed nature of his attempt to win her back (e.g. Not succeeding in buying her favourite flowers, had no reservation at a restaurant, phone has no battery, … etc.) as such that one unearths his subjective conflict, i.e. his subtle but failed rebellion to the passive state he finds himself in. In more concrete terms, even though he promises to change for her, the half-assed way by which he organized his attempt calls the truthfulness of this very promise promptly into question.  

The Hardness of Avocado (2019) by Jo Masaya

His subsequent choice to wait one month for her quells his inner rebellion (Narra-note 1). He resigns himself in doing nothing, merely contenting himself with daydreams. The true problem is, in fact, not that he does not change anything, but that he fails to question his own role in shaping his romantic failure. In other words, by choosing to wait for her, he cunningly evades the very thing necessary for attaining any possible subjective change: the exploration of what he truly desires, the desiring position of Shimi, as well as his own subjective role in creating his romantic mess (Narra-note 2).

The moment that he confesses that he does not know why they broke up, Mizuki creates an opening for himself to question his own subjective contribution to his malaise. But is he able to jump into this opening and question himself considering Shimi’s desire or will he remain blind for his own subjective responsibility in problematizing as well as in re-establishing his relationship (Narra-note 3 (Spoiler))?     

The Hardness of Avocado (2019) by Jo Masaya

The Hardness of Advocado is, in truth, an anti-romantic film, but it is by being anti-romantic that Masaya succeeds in touching upon the struggle that marks many millennials. Via Mizuki’s struggle, a struggle he fails to recognize and deal with, Masaya shows the spectator the passive helpless state that marks many subjects nowadays – the sad acceptance of the impotence that one, due to current social dynamics, is subjected to and is forced to accept. With his narrative Masaya reveals in a subtly touching way how, within contemporary society, subjects have not only lost the ability to question their own subjective position, but also the ability to take the other (here Shimi) serious at the level of her subjectivity.   

The cinematographical composition of Hardness of Advocado provides of pleasant mix between dynamic and static moments. Fixed moments are applied when the character in focus – this is, in most cases, Mizuki – remains still or remains while moving within the frame, while dynamic moments are applied to mirror certain comportments (Cine-note 1). It is not always clear from a compositional standpoint why certain movements are framed with subtle dynamic moments and others are not but mixing static with subtle dynamic moments does offers a pleasing compositional variety for the spectator.    

The Hardness of Avocado (2019) by Jo Masaya

At one point in the narrative, the look of the spectator is explicitly equated with the gaze of the camera of Mizuki’s auditions. While this seems, at first, merely a compositional decoration, this technique does not fail to heighten the ‘realism’ of the fictional narrative. The sporadic use of shaky framing serves the same purpose. Even though Masaya aims (and succeeds) to heighten the ‘realistic’ feeling of the narrative, he also stages, without changing the flow or style of his composition, some of Mizuki’s subjective fantasies. These fantasized moments deepen Mizuki’s subject by showing how he, while stuck within a position of passivity, does desire the change of his current situation.

What makes the narrative so pleasing and further heightens the realism of the story is the naturalness of the performances. While each performance contributes to this realism as well as to the evocation of Masaya’s message, the performance that impresses the most, the performance that ensures that Masaya is able to deliver his message so effectively, is of course Mizuki Maehara’s performance.

The Hardness of Avocado (2019) by Jo Masaya

The Hardness of Avocado is an amazing narrative that succeeds in communicating its message and touching the spectator – especially the millennial spectator – by offering a rather anti-climactic conclusion to Mizuki’s romantic malaise. Jo Masaya’s anti-romantic narrative does not only show the spectator the need for the subject to question their own subjective position, but also the importance to take the other serious at the level of his/her subjectivity.

Notes

Narra-note 1: That Mizuki is not content with his current romantic situation is also underlined by the tension between him and his comedian friend who enjoys his first romantic success. While this tension is, of course, function of the jealousy that Mizuki feels, it is also function of how powerlessness he feels in changing his current situation.  

Narra-note 2: While certain behaviours of Mizuki evoke his desire to win Shimi back, other behaviours puts that desire into doubt, subtly evoking that he is content with whatever happens.

Narra-note 3: The image of the avocado as well as the image of a piece of furniture are two symbolic elements ‘echoing’ Mizuki’s current position. The image of the avocado underlines Mizuki’s inability to analyze his relation and his own role – hardness subtly synonymous with denseness. Via the piece of furniture, a piece Mizuki can only finish putting together by using the little tool differently, one could say that he is confronted with the need to change his perspective and his current position with respect to others.

Cine-note 1: Spatial movement is also used, but to a lesser degree.

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