With Stay, director Darryl Wharton-Rigby, presents his second feature film. After having had a successful run in the festival circuit, gathering a variety of awards, his latest film is finally set to be released on Amazon prime Japan later this month. In order to celebrate this release, we gladly share our review.
One day, Ryuu (Shogen) loses his job at the fish market, all because of an arrest in the past. A few days later, when hitting the club, he encounters a woman (Ana Tanaka), dances with her, and finally ends up having sex with her in the toilets. Alas, she refuses to tell her name to him.
The next day, by mere chance, he sees her at the train station. As she did not respond to his question in Japanese the night before, he starts the conversation by asking her name in English. The woman finally responds: Ah, so you speak English well. After some playful banter, he manages to get her to accept his invitation to stay at his place.
Stay is, in our view, a slice-of-life romance. The narrative aims nothing other than the frame the blossoming of a new romance and to touch upon how one’s past can play a functional role in the present in order to enable a possible future to be written. In more concrete terms, Warton-Rigby’s story touches upon the fact that one should not let one’s past define one’s future, but also illustrates that sharing one’s past is a necessary step in establishing an intersubjective romantic relationship.
The past is something that haunts Ryuu, but it is not that Ryuu is haunted by his past as such. If he is haunted by his past, it is because the social structure he tries to reintegrate himself in keeps confronting him with his past. The reason why such confrontation keeps on happening is because the social structure is dictated by the deceptive image of togetherness and sameness. What Ryuu’s boss’s act reveals is nothing other than how the pre-occupation with the image of sameness forces people to do what looks right, but not what does right by the other subject. In other words, Ryuu is not fired by his boss because he does not do his job well, but because his ‘past mistake’ disturbs the deceptive image of togetherness and sameness of the company. His ‘past mistake’ turns him, as the rumour spreads throughout the company, into an outsider. It is, in this respect, easier for his boss to put him truly outside (i.e. to fire him) and quickly restore the superficial fiction of togetherness than to quell the disturbance by forcing the co-workers to see Ryuu as subject.
It is his bosses’ act, an act that Others Ryuu and forces him into the position of outsider, that not only confronts Ryuu with his loneliness, but also him with his burning desire for a inter-subjective connection, a desire to encounter someone beyond their body-image. This desire for connecting with someone on an intersubjective level is immediately evident from the second encounter Ryuu has with the foreign lady – the encounter on the train platform. What he tries to do by asking various questions (e.g. what her name is, where she lives, and where she is going, … etc.) is to open her up and allow an intersubjective interaction to take place. At first, his questions fail to let his love interest speak about herself as subject – she remains defensive and tries to keep, as good as she can, her subjectivity hidden for him, but eventually she starts to open up to Ryuu.
But before she starts opening up to Ryuu and fleeting inter-subjective moments of romance starts to appear, there is tension that marks the speech-interactions between them, a tension that is, in fact, the very source of the lighthearted playfulness that characterizes many of their initial interactions. This tension is not only sensible in the conflict between Ryuu’s speech, a speech that aims to make his love interest reveal her subjectivity – i.e. speech that aims for the subject – and the woman’s playful but defensive responses, but also between Ryuu’s attempts and the (empty) speech that circles around the body-image and subtle emphasizes the sexual attraction that, by virtue of the body-image, exist between them.
That the playful and romantic interactions between Ryuu and this woman are so enjoyable to watch is not only due to the great screenplay by Wharton-Rigby, but also because both actors, Shogen and Anna Tanaka have a great chemistry and succeed in utilizing this chemistry to make the interactions feel natural and spontaneous.
The composition ofStay stands out due to its subtle roughness. (Semi-)static shots as well as dynamic shots – tracking or spatial – are, in most cases, marked by a certain unsteadiness. While the unsteadiness is often subtle, especially when static shots are concerned, it is often less subtle when more dynamic shots are used (Cine-note 1). This cinematographical roughness, be it a conscious decision or an unwanted effect of budget constraints, nevertheless positively impacts the narrative. This roughness, by infusing a pleasing naturalism into the narrative and emphasizing the reality of its spatial context (i.e. Tokyo), does not only make Ryuu’s subjective trajectory and his romantic encounter more realistic, but also allows this romantic encounter, supported by this implied realism, to be truly touching.
Stay is a great indie romance film that underlines the very importance for subjects to establish inter-subjective (romantic) relationships. What makes this narrative pleasing and heartwarming is not the great screenplay as such, but the natural chemistry Shogen and Anna Tanaka have on the silver screen. With Stay, Warton-Rigby corroborates that romance in film can only work if the spectator is able to feed on the chemistry of the two main characters.
Cine-note 1: There are sequences within the narrative that are less rough around the edges. These sequences, offering either more fluid dynamic camera movement or more static fixed shots, do not, in any way, negate the already established naturalism of the narrative.