Akihiko Shiota, known for his powerful youth drama Harmful Insect (2001), his fantasy-action epic and box-office hit Dororo (2007) and his part for the Roman Porno Reboot Project Wet Woman in the Wind (2016), is back with another narrative. This time around, Shiota explores the drama of unrequited love and impact it has on the subject.
Haru (Mugi Kadowaki) and Reo (Nana Komatsu) form the band Haruleo. While things went well between them for a long time, their relationship has turned sour. Unable to bear the other’s presence, they both express the desire to disband their band. But Shima (Ryo Narita), their roadie, convinces them to only disband after they have finished the tour in Hakodate.
Farewell Song is a film that explores how the dimension of miscommunication problematizes the possibility for an inter-subjective encounter and how the unsaid, by remaining unvocalized, perverts the interactions between subjects. Akihito Shiota explores both aspects expertly within Haru and Leo’s relationship.
From the beginning of Farewell Song, it is evident that Haru and Leo’s relationship is marked by a certain aggressiveness, an aggressiveness directed at the presence of the other as such (e.g. ignoring the other, not addressing the other in a direct way, complaining about the other, competing to get first to the toilet, etc.). For both, this relational aggression is function of an imaginary injury and of the inability of putting what they cannot say into signifiers and addressing these words to the other as subject.
Before exploring Haru and Leo’s imaginary injury, we need to highlight that their relational aggression is not without function. In fact, this aggression needs to be understood as a form of acting-out. The aggressive acts and speech are not meant to damage the Other as such, but to force the Other to respond as subject and hear what the subject is unable say. But, while this aggression aims at bringing the subject of the Other in play, the only effect this aggression has is inciting more imaginary aggression. In other words, Leo and Haru fail to provoke the Other as subject. Instead, they ignite the other as ego, this ego that does not want to speak.
So, what are the imaginary injuries that Leo and Haru are unable to vocalize to each other (Cine-note 1)? The imaginary injury of Haru is a romantic injury, an injury inflicted by the non-response of the beloved other (i.e. Leo), by the fact that this other does not realize that she loves her. We call this injury the injury of unrequited love.
Haru’s injury of unrequited love is caused by a misreading of Leo’s comportment when they first met. Haru ‘mistakenly’ came to believe that Leo, as lover, saw her as her beloved. In other words, she discerned in Leo’s comportment a sign of her love as well as an invitation to her to realize herself as Leo’s lover (Narra-note 1). Yet, Haru, imaginarily injured by Leo’s ‘failure’ to meet Haru as lover, never confesses her love for her in a direct manner – her love for Leo is, in other words, her unsaid.
Haru does try to confess her love in an indirect manner. It is not difficult to realize that her evocative and touching lyrics – courtesy of Aimyon and Motohiro Hata – and the signifiers she addresses to the audience are – and this fundamental – in fact addressed to Leo as Other/subject. These lyrics are a roundabout attempt to make Leo realize that she loves her. But, alas, Leo does not seem to realize that she is singing Haru’s love-confession as well as an account of the subjective turmoil Leo’s failure to meet her as lover causes.
Leo’s imaginary injury is not strictly function of a romantic failure but induced by the very dynamic between the media and the band. The media, the media celebrating Haru as the key to Haruleo’s success, treats Leo as a piece of furniture. This sidelining constitutes an imaginary injury insofar as it reinforces the lack of self-worth that marks her – the suffering linked to this lack of self-worth constitutes one element of Leo’s unsaid.
It is, in fact, this lack of self-worth that animates all of Leo’s comportment. If she acts cold and aggressive towards Haru it is not only to signal her failure to vocalize her suffering, but also because Haru, as presence, keeps confronting her with her own feelings of inadequacy. Leo’s sexual escapades do not only aim to elicit the Other’s response (i.e. Haru), but are also attempts to silence her sense of inferiority and feel desired/loved. This feeling of inferiority, furthermore, renders Leo incapable of approaching Shima in a direct romantical way and persuades her, against her own desire, to support Shima’s feelings for Haru (Narra-note 2, Narra-note 3 (spoiler)).
The sad and painful beauty of Farewell Song lies in the fact that Haru and Leo, while trying in their own way to reach the Other as subject, never truly succeed to meet each other as subject. Even in the rare case that one of them, via speech or via an act, directly appeals to the Other as subject, the unsaid – the unsaid of the imaginary injuries – ensures that the Other fails to meet the appealing subject with his own subject (Narra-note 4 (spoiler), psycho-note 1 (spoiler)). Yet, Shiota ends his narrative on a hopeful note, subtly implying that an intersubjective romantic encounter between them might not be as impossible after all.
The composition of Farewell Songstands out due to its simplicity – offering a simple mix of static shots, tracking shots, and spatial moving shots (Cine-note 1). This cinematographical simplicity, used by Shiota to focus on and highlight verbal and non-verbal expressions, allows him to explore, in a very nuanced manner, the unfolding of the relations between Haru, Leo and Shima as well as show how the changing relations affect the various subjects. Yet, Shiota’s composition of Farewell Song has one cinematographical decoration: the soundless shots whereupon fragments of Haru’s lyrics appear. These peaceful moments confront the spectator with the fact that Haru’s subjective turmoil, a turmoil related to Leo, dictates her creative writing.
By choosing to frame his narrative with a straightforward simplicity, Shiota of course puts the responsibility for making his exploration of relational and subjective turmoil believable on the shoulders of Mugi Kadowaki and Nana Komatsu. Both actresses prove, by giving wonderfully nuanced performances, that they are more than up for the task. In truth, Farewell Song proves is only able to become so pleasing and engaging due to the extraordinary way both actresses breathe life into the subjective struggle of their characters – the emotions, whether expressed via speech or via singing, always feel genuine.
Farewell Song is a truly moving narrative that explores, in a very nuanced but detailed way, the difficulty for subjects to meet the Other, the beloved Other, as subject. What makes Shiota’s narrative so satisfying and gripping is not the well-written script as such but the way the nuanced and genuine performances Mugi Kadowaki and Nana Komatsu breathe life into this drama of the romantic unsaid. Luckily, while Farewell Song is, at its heart, a drama of the failed romantic encounter, Shiota’s finale ends on a positive note, implying that both subjects might succeed in meeting each other Otherness romantically in the future.
Narra-note 1: In the first flashback, there are various moments where Leo seeks psychical intimacy with Haru (e.g. sitting next to her while eating dinner, putting her head on her shoulder). These acts, these acts that ‘intrude’ into Haru’s personal space, are ‘misread’ by Haru as signs of Leo’s love and as invitations to her to respond to Leo as lover.
Narra-note 2: Eventually, Leo approaches Shima and asks him to make love to her. Yet, one should not read Leo’s sudden attack as a confession of her love for him, but as an attempt to make Shima, through sex, love her, to turn him into someone who, by loving her, can help her silence her lingering feelings of inferiority. His refusal deals another imaginary blow to her frail sense of self-worth.
Narra-note 3: At a certain point in the narrative, Leo reveals, by singing, that what she truly leaves unsaid is nothing other than her love for Haru – she, thus, has no true feelings for Shima. The physical intimacy she sought with Haru in the beginning of their band was truly a sign of Leo’s love and an invitation addressed to Haru to become her lover. More than anything, she desires to be acknowledged as being adequate by Haru’s love for her.
Narra-note 4: One can discern this dynamic, for instance, when Haru tells Leo that she does not want to see her fall apart as well as when Leo asks Haru what she is doing music for. Both sequences end with a flash of imaginary violence – in the first sequence Leo runs away angry after underlining her lack of self-worth, in the second sequence Haru gets angry and both start throwing water at each other.
The most direct appeal of one subject to another takes places when Leo kisses Haru. Leo’s kiss is as much an indirect confession of her love as a direct demand to Haru to love her, but Haru sadly refuses this kiss. Yet, it seems that Haru realized the truthfulness of the desire that underpinned Leo’s act.
In our view, the reason why they decide to continue the band is driven by the romantic unsaid that marks both – they love each other but are yet unable to confess directly to each other.
Psycho-note 1: Some spectators might wonder why Haru and Leo are unable to vocalize their unsaid and meet each other as subject. In Haru’s case, one can assume that she does not want to endanger the band, by confessing her love and make things more complicated. In Leo’s case, the fear of being inadequate stops her from pursuing Haru as romantic partner – by keeping things unsaid, she evades the imagined confrontation of not being good enough for her.
Cine-note 1: While the narrative explores Haru and Leo’s relational turmoil in the present, this exploration is also supported by three flashbacks, one flashback exploring the beginnings of Haruleo (e.g. how Haru and Leo first met, how Haru taught Leo to play the guitar, how Haru and Lea met Shima, … etc.) and two more fragmentary flashbacks evoking Haru’s memories.
Cine-note 2: In some instances, hand-held camera shots are applied as well.