While Masaharu Take is slowly making a name for himself by directing boxing narratives 100 Yen Love (2014) and Underdog (2020), he has already many other narratives under his directorial belt. One of these narratives is The Gun (2018), based on Fuminori Nakamura novel ‘Ju’, a narrative revisiting the phallic dimension of the gun so successfully explored in Sabu’s Dangan Runner (1996).
One day, university student Toru Nishikawa (Nijiro Murakami) picks up a gun. Thrilled by his find, he puts it away in a fancy box as a prized possession. While admiring the gun at home satisfies him at first, he soon feels the need to bring his gun to school.
Feeling invigorated by his prized possession, he starts playing around with two women, Yuko Yoshikawa (Alice Hirose) and a blond-haired woman (Kyoko Hinami). Before long, Toru feels that he needs to really use to gun. And then, one day, a detective (Lily Franky) turns up at his apartment.
To understand The Gun as narrative, one need to understand the function that the gun plays for Toru. The gun, while having a real objective presence in the narrative space is, first and foremost, a symbolic element. The symbolic aspect, the fact that this gun by being in his possession affects his subject, is evident in the sudden urge/need he feels to to do something with his prized possession and how the possession of this gun changes his comportment.
But the gun is not just any kind of symbolic element. The gun has, for Toru who possesses it, a certain phallic signification or phallic weight. This gun, a symbol for the imaginary phallus, imbues him with a sort of ‘manly’ power – to threaten or to protect someone, to shoot and personally kill someone easily. This imbued ‘manly’ power is also evident in his interactions with women – the gun, as phallic element, giving him the confidence to approach, in a rather aggressive way, the female other just as a to-be-enjoyed sexual object. In other words, Toru, feeling he possesses the phallus, meets the female other solely to sexually satisfy his fantasy of having the phallic object.
The spectator quickly comes to understand that this gun has turned into something he cannot lose. He fears to be castrated from his gun, because, without this phallic stand-in, he loses the symbolic element that ensures his sense of having a certain phallic power (Narra-note 1). Yet, Toru starts, driven by a need for some stimulation, a need to satisfy his sense of having a certain phallic power, to carry his handgun around. The satisfaction that he can derive from carrying his gun around derives from the fact that Toru, while possessing the gun as phallus, can deceive the Other (e.g. the police) that can castrate him of his object. He can enjoy the fact that this Other remains blind of his phallic possession. But what will Toru do when the Other guesses his secret possession and threatens him with his castration (Narra-note 2)?
The composition of The Gun, offering a balanced mix between fixity and dynamism, stand out due to its black and white colour-scheme. The choice to frame the entire narrative in monochrome colours allows Masaharu Take to utilize lightning in a compositional manner. While it does not happen that often, Take’s play with blacks, greys, and whites often allows him, by exploiting the compositional power of such play, some truly visually pleasing shots. In some cases, the compositional power of interior geometry (e.g. mirrors and such) is applied as well to craft subtle artful shots and some evocative artfully flavoured scene-compositions, compositions reminiscent of early Japanese new wave cinema. Yet, despite the subtle artfulness of the composition, Take’s The Gun lacks the compositional poetry that would turn his rather bleak nihilistic narrative into a truly powerful experience.
The Gun will, furthermore, not win any prizes for its rather sub-par musical accompaniment. While some musical pieces succeed in enhancing the atmosphere, most musical pieces have no added value to the composition or the atmosphere of the narrative.
The narrative of The Gun is structured by narrating voice, a voice that evokes Toru’s thoughts about possession the gun. It is, as a matter of fact, due to this narrating voice that the phallic signification of the gun and the phallic effect this gun has on his comportment is made truly tangible for the spectator. Take’s way of using of the narrating voice is, in fact, one of the strengths of this film (Cine-note 1).
While The Gun is a great narrative from a thematical perspective – exploring, with clarity, the impact of a phallic object on male subjective functioning, Take is unable to turn this thematical exploration into a truly powerful experience. The main reason for this failure lies in the fact that Take, while delivering some moments of visual delight, forgets to strengthen this thematical exploration with a stylistically strong and poetically evocative composition.
Narra-note 1: Even though Toru qualifies the gun as symbol of death and Thanatos, the death drive, itself, his comportment and speech underlines, time and time again, that the gun functions for him as nothing other than a symbol of life and Eros. The possession of Thanatos has, in other words, an Eros effect on Toru.
Narra-note 2: After being threatened with castration, Toru meets up with Yuko and tries to sexually assault her. This attempt to sexually meet the female other is not born from a certain self-confidence, but from an anxiety to lose the possession of his phallic object, to lose the sense of having the phallic object. His subsequent acts of violence and his sudden change in his comportment are, in contrast, not driven by this fear as such but driven by his knowledge that his actual castration will come.
Yet, even this last formulation is not completely accurate. His more erratic behaviour is an attempt to hold onto the symbol of the phallus, a symbol that, due to the intervention of the inspector, he is already castrated from. The intervention of the inspector succeeds, on other words, in putting the phallic function of the gun as object radically into question.
Cine-note 1: While the sound-design is well done overall, some compositional choices at the level of sound/speech create unnecessary confusing.