With Take Over Zone, a film who received its world premiere at last year’s Tokyo International Film Festival, Shinpei Yamasaki preset his fourth feature film. And now, partially due to the fact that Yamasaki’s narrative did not go unnoticed at this world-renowned festival – Riru Yoshina won the Gemstone Award for her performance, the film receives its international premiere at this year’s Camera Japan Festival.
Ever since her parents’ divorce, Sari Tanaka (Riru Yoshina), who decided, in contrast to her younger brother Toma (-), to keep living together with her dad (Yota Kawase), has struggled with her father’s behaviour. While his behavior is problematic and creates a far from ideal familial situation, Sari has, at least, escaped the emotional and physical abuse her mother Fumi (Chika Uchida) subjected her to.
At her junior high school, Sari creates trouble and enters, whenever she can, into conflict with Yukina Shoji (-), a fellow track & field club member. One day, she meets Yukina with her brother and mother at a local supermarket and learns that her mother has married Yukina’s father. Not that much after, Sari decided to run away with her brother.
The relation between Sari and her father is problematic. It is problematic as the father, due to the divorce, has lost all reason or desire to uphold his position as father – he has given up on being a father. While it is not certain that he realizes it as such, but through his behaviour he reveals himself to the other, especially to Sari, as a failure. He is a good-for-nothing that needs to rely on his daughter (e.g. for breakfast and dinner, reminding to pay the club-bills, …etc.) instead of being someone – someone worthy of the signifier father – his daughter can rely on.
Sari’s rebellious bullying behaviour is, as one can easily guess, function of her father’s failure to be a father, the mother’s past emotional abuse, and the absence (now as well as in the past) of a supportive familial environment. It is therefore not surprising that this behaviour aggravates precisely when her father brings her precious place at the club in jeopardy as well as when she learns about her mother’s remarriage.
In our view, Sari’s problematic behaviour must be read as an acting-out. It is a way, an inadequate way, to communicate her anger as well as express that something in the complex familial context does not work for her. But is running a more adequate way to deal with her problematic familial situation? At first glance, one would say yes, as it gives her a positive place within the school’s social fabric, but the actual answer is no. Running only helps her escape her situation and forget the past and the present situation. Neither her rebellious behaviour nor her running brings the signifier in play: she does not really speak about her struggle. Neither her rebellious behaviour nor her running formulates what she fantasizes about: a safe and loving familial context for her and her beloved brother (Narra-note 1, Narra-note 2).
Her decision of running-away with her brother is the most evident acting-out, because this act is clearly addressed at the parental Other, i.e. her father as well as her mother. While she, once again, does not use signifier – the use of the signifier has proved to be useless to exact the change that she wants, this act is Sari’s most radical attempt to make that Other that has failed to listen hear her struggle as well as her fantasy of familial happiness. Will this attempt succeed in instigating some change or will it, like all the others, fall on deaf ears (narra-note 3 (spoiler))?
While Shinpei Yamasaki creates some truly beautifully composed static moments in his composition, what stands out the most is the way he composes with dynamic shots – most often tracking shots – and the fluid and flowing rhythm he creates with these shots. The reliance on movement is, of course, partially function of the track-and-field element of the narrative – Sari’s training-moments and the track-and-field competitions she partakes in are shot with lots of cinematographical movement. But what makes these sequences truly beautiful is not the use of dynamic moments as such, but Yamasaki’s thoughtful use of slow-motion. Yamasaki shows that, when used correctly, slow-motion can truly enhance the beauty of the shot-compositions.
Another cinematographical element worth mentioning is Yamasaki’s use of shaky framing. These moments, which radically differ from the more fluid and artfully composed sequences, are instrumental in giving the narrative a certain feel of realism. It would not be incorrect to read the contrast between these rougher shots and the more fluid shots as echoing the ‘friction’ that marks Sari as subject. Does Sari, by running so fluidly, not aim to temporarily escape or outrun her rough problematic familial situation? And is Sari’s rough and rebellious behaviour at school not an indirect way to deal with the rough problematic situation her father subjects her to?
Take Over Zone is sadly plagued by a rather inconsistent sound-design – in some sequences the sound is too silent, making some speech-interactions difficult to understand. Even though this problem will not irritate the spectator that much, we do feel that this problem problematizes certain important moments in the narrative, moments that could and should have had much more emotional impact than the impact these scenes have now.
Take Over Zone is a great narrative, because Yamasaki succeeds in showing how a failing father-figure and a divorce can derail a young subject in the middle of her coming-into-being-as-subject as well as how such a derailed subject can re-find a constructive path to subjectify herself. But while Yamasaki’s message is clear, the delivery of his positive message of empowerment would have more gripping and emotionally powerful for the spectator if the sound-design were on point.
Narra-note 1: When she does speak out, she speaks to someone (i.e. her father) who cannot hear her subjective struggle or her underlying desire – a desire she, in fact, subtly reveals when Sari in a discussion with her father states that if he would have changed he could have won her back.
One could even contend that it is precisely because her father is unable to hear her subjective struggle and desire that the need to express her subjective struggle in a different way arises.
Narra-note 2: This desire is subtle evoked by very pleasure – a pleasure underlined by the joyful musical accompaniment – that she has when she does things together with her brother (e.g. playing basketball with him, visiting an aquarium, making ketchup omelet rice for him, … etc.). It would not be incorrect to state that Sari assumes a parental-like role for her younger brother – she does what her parents have failed to do.
Narra-note 3: The act will lead to an important change in Sari’s subjective position. Without spoiling too much, the act will lead Sari to realizes that she should not seek any happiness in an impossible to realize fantasy of familial happiness, but can find such happiness in the social dimension of the track-and-field team. In other words, she realizes that she should not mend what cannot be mended, but that she herself can create the necessary social bonds to ensure her own subjective happiness.
This realization effectively transforms her running from a solitary practice of escaping her struggle to a positive social practice that gives her joy and a possibility to fully assume another desire, the desire to run.