All The Things We Never Said (2020) review [San Diego Asian Film Festival 2020]

Introduction

While Yuya Ishii could not convince us with The Tokyo Night Sky Is Always the Densest Shade of Blue (2017), a daring experimental but failed attempt to compose poetry with the cinematographical composition as such, he genuinely impressed us with Almost a Miracle (2019), one of most original coming-into-being narratives made in recent years. Can Yuya Ishii impress us once’s more with All The Things We Never Said (2020)?

Review

One day, Atsuhisa Yamada (Taiga Nakano), who works as a librarian, suddenly gets dizzy at work. He informs his boss, who allows Yamada to leave work early. Arriving home, he discovers his wife, Natsumi (Yuko Oshima) with another man in his bedroom.

All The Things We Never Said (2020) by Yuya Ishii.

All The Things We Never Said is a drama of the unsaid, a drama of confronting the other with what one should have said as well a drama of leaving one’s subjectivity unsaid. The former drama is the drama of Natsumi’s affair. The message of her act, a message she vocalizes for him the day after he found out her affair is found out, is as follow: ‘I never felt like you loved me’. While one can, of course, question what love means and what can be a sign of love for her, such questioning does not efface the fact that their relational dynamic has been devoid of any speech of love or acts of love. In other words, Atsuhisa has, all these years, failed to give a sign that Natsumi can accept as being a sign of his love.   

In truth – and this is subtly underlined in the narrative – we need to understand Natsumi’s act of cheating and her subsequent desire to divorce as an acting-out. What she really wanted when her husband discovered her cheating was an act that she could welcome as a sign of his love. What she really wanted when she introduced the divorce was not Atsuhisa’s passive acceptance, but a speech-act from him that, for her, would reaffirm his love for her. In a certain way, Natsumi wants nothing more than to reanimate him and revive his love for her.

All The Things We Never Said (2020) by Yuya Ishii.

But Natsumi does not receive any kind of a sign of love, all because Atsuhisa is characterized by an inhibiting and paralyzing passivity, a passivity sensible in speech as well as in his comportment (or lack thereof). In fact, Atsuhisa presents himself to the other as an empty shell, a shell devoid of passion, love, and desire. While he speaks about his dreams (i.e. establishing a company and building a house with a garden for his wife and child), one cannot help but wonder how willing is he to do what needs to be done in order to realize these dreams. And his passive acceptance of the divorce does not only prove to Natsumi that he does not love her, but also makes the spectator doubt if Atsuhisa ever loved her.   

Yet, despite presenting himself through empty speech and lack of acts as an empty shell, he is far from being an empty shell. His main struggle is nothing other than to vocalize his subjectivity to the other as subject. What he leaves unsaid is nothing other than himself as subject as such. The speech that counts does not come. The speech that can make a difference does not come. The central question Ishii’s narrative poses is as follows: can Atsuhisa overcome his paralyzing anxiety and accede to level of vocalizing his desire.

All The Things We Never Said (2020) by Yuya Ishii.

The composition of All The Things We Never Said stands out due to its use of shaky framing and its use of cinematographical movement. Both aspects are masterly used by Yuya Ishii to give the composition a pleasing and natural flow and the staging of the narrative its naturalism (Cine-note 1). It is this naturalism, evoked by this cinematographical play with shakiness and movement, that allows the spectator to feel closer to the main characters inhabiting the frame and to what is happening within the frame as such.

Even though the composition plays an important role in allowing the spectator to feel closer to the various characters of the narrative, this compositional support is not enough. The most important element is – and this will not surprise anyone – the performances as such. The performances in All The Things We Never Said are simply amazing. With their layered and natural performance Nakano Taiga and Yuko Oshima truly make the narrative come alive and allow the narrative’s message to impact the spectator deeply.  

All The Things We Never Said (2020) by Yuya Ishii.

Beyond giving his composition a certain naturalism, Ishii also decorates his composition with something that we would call subtle impressionistic sequences. These sequences aim to evoke a certain subjective experiential atmosphere, either by concatenating shots in faster and snappier way or by utilizing the power of the snappier cut and subtle ‘disorienting’ sounds together (Cine-note 1). The most important impressionistic sequence, a sequence that is both a visual delight as well as a powerful emotional experience, is of course Atsuhisa’s discovery of his wife’s infidelity.

In our view, it is due to this artfully composed impressionistic sequence of discovering his wife’s infidelity, a central sequence that allows the spectator to truly feel and experience the emotions of the male protagonist, that Yuya Ishii’s All The Things We Never Said can become such a moving exploration of the impact that someone, who is unable to speak with his subject, has on himself as well as on others. The true drama of the narrative lies in the very fact that everything that happens after the discovery could have been prevented if Atsuhisa could have answered Natsumi’s call in an inter-subjective way.

All The Things We Never Said (2020) by Yuya Ishii.

All The Things We Never Said is a fabulous film about the destructive impact the inability to assume one’s subjectivity in the field of speech can have on other. That Ishii’s latest is so moving and impactful is, in fact, not due to Ishii’s brilliant composition or the natural and layered performances by Nakano Taiga and Yuko Oshima as such, but because these elements allows Ishii to explore the contemporary problem of subjects who are unable to overcome their anxiety and accede to a position of desire. All The Things We Never Said is not only a highly relevant narrative, especially for Japanese subjects, it might very well be the best Japanese film of this year.   

Notes

Cine-note 1: Static shots are present in the composition, but, at first glance, these shots do not seem to serve any purpose beyond adding cinematographical variety. Yet, these shots do have, in many cases, a function beyond merely adding some variety. By seeing how Yuya Ishii utilizes the contrast between static shots and shaky static shots, we can assume that these contrasts are also used to evoke Yamada Atsuhisa‘s subjective position and to indicate, often beyond speech, that a certain situation ‘impacts’ him.  

Cine-note 2: Some of these sequences put the signifier and its allusive potential to work and succeeds masterly in evoking more than what is actually shown.

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