Kentaro Hagiwara is, as of now, a director with only two full-feature films under his belt. His first film, Tokyo Ghoul (2017), while being one the better live-adaptations of recent years, struggled to turn Kaneki’s coming-into-being into a moving experience. With his second film, Our 30 minute Sessions (2020) Hagiwara returns to the theme of coming-into-being, but will he be able to make this coming-into-being more poignant than in Tokyo Ghoul?
This film is screening at Japan Foundation Touring Film Programme 2021
One day, job-hunting university student Sota Kubota (Takumi Kitamura) finds a cassette player laying around an abandoned pool complex. The cassette in the player from a band named Echoll. Kubota tries to play the cassette, but this cassette does not produce music, but calls forth a visualization of the recently deceased singer of the band, Aki Miyata (Mackenyu Arata) that can, by pushing the start button, take over Kubota’s body for 30 minutes.
Our 30 Minute Sessions explores the importance of social bonds for the integration of a subject within the social field and the fundamental role that the O/other plays within the process of subjective ‘growth’. Hagiwara’s investigation of this cooperative interaction between subject and Other stands out because it – some might say surprisingly – avoids being (melo)dramatic and, instead, tries to evoke its message via musical and lighthearted comical elements. Our 30 Minute Sessions is, in fact, littered with situational and relational comical moments, moments that will not fail to put a grin on the face of the spectator (Narra-note 1).
The importance of social bonds for social ‘realization’ gets explored in the subjective trajectory of Sota Kubota. How can we best describe Kubota’s initial position? He is, in short, a loner. He does not have any friends and does not desire any friends or girlfriends. For Kubota socializing with others has no relevance whatsoever. Moreover, being in the same space with another subject for too long is painful for him. In other words, something in the Other is for Kubota unbearable and arouses fear.
It is evident that it is precisely because he evades the other – the other-semblable, that he is unable to secure a place as salaryman within the societal Other. His refusal to socialize with others makes him undesirable for the ‘corporate’ Other. Yet, Kubota’s refusal to engage with the other in the Other is underpinned by a mor fundamental problem, a problem at the level of his desire.
The sudden ghostly appearance of Aki Miyata creates a forced relationship between Kubota and Aki Miyata’s ghostly appearance, but also between him, as spirit, and his body as possessed by Aki Miyata. It is latter relationship is the most fundamental one, because it forces Kubota into a mirror-stage-like situation. Kubota, when reduced to a spirit, is confronted, at the level of the image, with another version of him – a him that is, at the level of his subjective logic, not him.
It is this mirroring relation that Kubota, at first, exploits for his own social benefit. He lets Miyata do his job-interviews but, in return, he lets Miyata meet his former bandmates to try to undo the disbanding of his band. But via this mirror-like relation, Aki Miyata ‘unwantedly’ reflects another version of Kubota, one that understands the socializing power of music and knows the value of social bonds, and forces him, beyond his initial will, to undergo a secondary process of ‘socialization’. Another aspect of Kubota’s ‘re-socialization’ lies in the fact that the 30-minute during possessions bring Kubota into social situations he would otherwise never have gotten into – e.g. drinking with Miyata’s bandmembers, hugging Kana (Sayu Kubota), Miyata’s former girlfriend, … etc. In other words, through these moments of possession, Kubota does not only see, in a mirror-like way, the joys of interacting socially, but also actively taste these joys as well.
Besides the dimension of the mirror, there are two other elements that impact Kubota’s ‘re-socialization’. The first element concerns the fact that the repeated ‘fusion’ between Miyata and Kubota causes him to experience fragments of Miyata’s past – fragments confronting him with the joy of socializing and the socializing power of music. The second element is the fact that Miyata begins to interfere in the solitary structure of his life. The first time that Miyata interferes in Kubota’s life is when he uploads a piece of music that Kubota composed on the internet. The effect of this act is that Miyata gives his solitary and even in a certain sense auto-erotic act of composing music – an act not unlike the act of playing virtual reality shooting games – a social component (Narra-note 2 (spoiler)). It is, in fact, due to this act that the spectator learns what makes the Other so problematic for Kubota: the possibility of finding no kind of recognition in this Other.
Kubota’s subjective change takes place in two stages. The first stage is … that the recognition that Miyata as Kubota receives from the O/other leads Kubota to form a kind of contract with Miyata concerning possessing his body. This decision is driven by a desire for recognition – a desire that Kubota, up until now, refused to acknowledge. His only aim is to abuse Miyata to inscribe himself, a proper sociable image of himself, into the Other. At this stage, enjoying this recognition is important and becoming that image is seemingly still out of the question.
The first stage melts fluidly in the second stage – this change happens within the narrative in less than ten minutes. In the second stage, the device of the mirror and the experiencing of fragments of Miyata’s past, have turned Kubota as animated by Miyata into an ideal ego for him to become. The second stage is, thus, driven by a desire to become, as himself, a subject worthy of the recognition of the Other or, in other words, a desire to animate the socialized image Miyata forced on him with his own subjectivity. Alas, Kubota’s desire to inscribe himself in the Other by himself is, not surprisingly, not to Miyata’s liking (Narra-note 3).
The composition of Our 30 Minute Sessions stands out due to its dynamism, delivering a fluid and pleasing mix of zoom-ins, zoom-outs, tracking movement, slow spatial movement, circling spatial movement, … etc. The pleasant rhythm of the composition is not only function of this versatile play with cinematographical movement as such, but also of an effective marriage between this play with dynamism and the rhythm of the myriad of musical pieces. While this marriage, of course, gives certain moments in the narrative a Music-Video feel, this compositional style suits the themes of the narrative perfectly.
Of course, static shots are also part of Hagiwara’s cinematographical arsenal. What stands out in many of these static shots is the subtle compositional poetry that marks them – poetry often function of a play with geometry. This implies that, far from just throwing in a static shot to provide some variety, Hagiwara has put thought, not only in his shot-compositions, but into his composition as a whole.
Our 30 Minutes Sessions is a very pleasant narrative that vividly underlines the importance of social bonds for the integration of a subject within the social field as well as the fundamental role the O/other plays in the process of becoming a desiring subject. While Our 30 Minutes Sessions is, of course, not the first narrative to explore the cooperative interaction between subject and Other, it succeeds, by offering a well-balanced musical and comical mix, to deliver this important message in a fresh, easily digestible, and highly amusing way.
Narra-note 1: The lighthearted comedy is, in many cases, function of the fact that other people, when Kubota speaks to Miyata, think he is merely speaking to himself or fighting with a voice in his head. In other cases, the lightheartedness is caused by the framing of the moment when Kubota realizes, after the 30 minutes have passed, in which awkward situation Miyata has found himself, as Kubota, in.
Let us note in passing that the first situation, a situation that makes Kubota too visible for the judging eye of the O/other, is highly problematic for him. For Kubota, the safest position in the Other is one of passive or absent presence.
Narra-note 2: The second time that Miyata interferes in Kubota’s life is to ensure that he remains socially linked with the others of the band.
Narra-note 3: The conflict of the second half of the narrative turns around the fact that, due to Kubota’s involvement in reviving, the 30 minutes of possession begin to shorten. This shortening, as the spectator can easily guess, will eventually lead to Miyata’s disappearance.