When Tetsuya Mariko released his second feature film Destruction Babies (2016), it impressed audiences all over the world and secured a multitude of awards, like the best emerging director prize at the Locarno Film Festival and the Silver Montgolfiere at the Festival des 3 Continents. Can Tetsuya Mariko impress us again with his third feature film, Miyamoto (2019)? Let’s find out in our review.
One night, Yasuko Nanako (Yu Aoi) invites Hiroshi Miyamoto (Sosuke Ikematsu) to her home for dinner. Suddenly, their get-together is disturbed by Nakano’s current boyfriend Yuji (Arata Iura) whom she wants to break up with. Nanako’s break down forces Miyamoto to take the stage and affirm that he will protect her.
Some time later, not long after been severely beaten up, Miyamoto visits his parents to introduce Yasuko Nakano to them. He tells them, as if it was a faits-diver, that they are going to marry. When Nanako gets unwell at dinner, Miyamoto’s mother quickly discovers that her son’s bride to be is already pregnant.
The narrative of Miyamoto, as the title already implies, is about Hiroshi Miyamoto. But while one might feel that Miyamoto’s trajectory is all about ‘maleness’ and becoming a man for a woman, what is truly at stake is, while related to the symbolic-imaginary dimension of maleness, something else entirely. What is, in fact, at stake in this narrative is a subjective nomination – You are my woman, I’m your man.
At the beginning of Tetsuya’s narrative, Miyamoto is revealed as someone who struggles to speak from his subject, as someone who uses speech in a brute and evasive way – i.e. he uses speech in order to silence, as quickly as possible, the questions of the other – and refuses to abide to the unwritten expectations of the other, e.g. his parents. Where does this behaviour originate from and why does he feel the need to keep certain things unsaid? Yes, the unsaid. The presence of the unsaid is revealed by the snarky remarks Miyamoto makes to scare off his genuinely concerned (m)Other as well is by the crying that he tries to keep hidden from everyone.
The aspect that Miyamoto wants to hide, the part of his subject that he does not want to bring into play is, in our view, nothing other than his past failure as subject and as man at the level of his imaginary ideal. His empty speech, his silencing speech, and the rude image he clothes himself with to scare off those interested in his subject all serve the same purpose: to hide for himself as well as for the other the fact that he failed.
The failure, as implied by the narrative, is related to a subjective act, a symbolic speech-act he was forced to make. When Yuij is bothering Yasuko, Yasuko forces him to perform a subjective speech-act – “I will protect Yasuko Nakano” and “You are my woman”. Yasuko brings, in other words, her lack or her vulnerability in play in such a way that it demands a phallic act (i.e. a display of power) as well as a subjective act of Miyamoto (i.e. the assumption of the role of protector). While Miyamoto’s speech-act, of course, corresponds with a certain chivalrous ideal of maleness – i.e. saving a damsel in distress is noble – and is partially about the assertion of one’s maleness, this act, at its fundamental level, is all about establishing a lovers-relation in the symbolic.
What has nothing to do with asserting oneself as subject but everything with identifying with a certain ideal of maleness is Miyamoto’s drinking behaviour – i.e. the ease by which he can be persuaded to down his beer or a bottle of sake. Miyamoto drinking behaviour reveals how powerful a societal ideal can influence a subject that is marked by a subjective insecurity. Miyamoto clings to this ideal image of the other/Other to ‘prove’ his maleness for himself as well as for the other. But, as the subtle lightheartedness of these scenes underline, he does not prove his maleness at all; the only thing he proves with his enthusiasm to drink is that he, at any prize, wants to misrecognize the subjective insecurity that marks him as man.
The past, by unfolding in tandem with the present, gives the already unfolded present, by way of Nachträglichkeit, more signification while the unfolding present continuously underlines the yet to resolve gaps of signification between the past and the present – this interplay between the present and the past constitutes the beauty and the power of the narrative structure. The central event that provides signification and underlines where signification falters concerns a traumatic incident. While we are not going to specify what happens, we can reveal that this traumatic moment confronts Miyamoto with his failure to uphold the subjective promise he made to Yasuko (Narra-note 1). The gap of signification that this event creates can be summarized by the following question: How will Miyamoto reassert his subjective commitment to her and resolve the inter-subjective betrayal he is accused of (Psycho-note 1 (Spoiler), Psycho-note 2 (spoiler))?
While Mariko Tetsuya’s composition offers a straightforward but fluid mix between static moments and dynamic moments, his composition is marked by thoughtful division, a division cleanly delineated the two different parts of the timeline the narrative explores. The first part, the present, the part exploring Miyamoto and Yasuko meeting each other’s parents in order to get the approval to marry, is framed with static shots and fluid camera movement, while the other part, the part focusing on their past, e.g. how they became a couple, is composed with shaky static shots and shaky moving shots (Cine-note 1).
While Miyamoto has its lighthearted moments, Tetsuya Mariko’s narrative stands out because of its rough and realistic violence – so rough it becomes, at times, almost unbearable to watch, and the myriad of powerful emotions of fear, anxiety, and anger. The impact that the violence and emotions have on the spectator are not function of the cinematography but of the fabulous performances byYui Aoi and Sosuke Ikematsu. Their performances are, in fact, the reason why Miyamoto’s quest to reaffirm his symbolic position is so gripping.
Tetsuya Mariko’s Miyamoto is a gripping and surprisingly moving exploration of how one sometimes needs to perform an act in the real in order to be able to reestablish one’s subject in an imaginary position and reaffirm the symbolic inter-subjective commitment one has made. Tetsuya Mariko does not only amaze the spectator by delivering lots of rough violence and wildly clashing emotions, but also by offering one of the most moving and honest romantic narratives of the decade.
Narra-note 1: The most painful aspect of what happens that is that Miyamoto, due to his enthusiasm to ‘prove’ that he embodies the ideal image of maleness, short-circuits the possibility to prove his subjective promise to Yasuko, the promise to protect her. In more psychoanalytic terms, Miyamoto’s preoccupation with the imaginary short-circuits his ability to assert in the real the symbolic promise that binds Yasuko and Miyamoto as subjects together.
Psycho-note 1: When Miyamoto promises Yasuko to kill the perpetrator, this promise serves, first and foremost, his ego/pride as man. This statement is, in other words, not function of his subjective promise, but function of the ideal male image he clings to. To perform this act, to turn his empty promise into an act driven by his symbolic commitment and desire, he needs to overcome the anxiety that marks him as male subject.
It is important to underline that this violent act, once performed in the real, will mend his imaginary injury as well as reaffirm his symbolic commitment to Yasuko. Without giving too much away of what happens during the act, we can reveal that the central dynamic of the act revolves the phallus in his real and his imaginary dimension. It is this dynamic, by resolving his imaginary injury at the level of his ego, that allows Miyamoto to re-affirm his symbolic commitment to Yasuko.
Psycho-note 2: One cannot uphold the idea that Miyamoto’s anger is solely caused by the traumatic event. Miyamoto’s state of anger, a state where he lashing out to anyone in his vicinity, is mainly function of his frustration of not yet being able to perform the act in such a way that it restores his subjective commitment to Yasuko.
Cine-note 1: In the framing of the present there is nevertheless one moment where Tetsuya Mariko does apply a shaky framed shot. He applies this shot to reverberate Miyamoto’s shaken subjective state after being beaten up.