A theme that often returns in Rikiya Imaizumi’s oeuvre is the problematic dimension of romance. Many of his narratives explore, in one way or another, the fact that love, beyond its potential of providing pleasure, is also a source for subjective suffering. This theme is touched upon in Our Blue Moment (2017), vividly explored in Just Only Love (2019), and freshly approached in His (2020). And even in his ensemble film Same Old, Same Old (2016), distributed by Enbu Seminar, the theme is evoked. With Over The Town (2021), Imaizumi, once more, delves into the problematic dimensions of romancing and love.
One night, while celebrating the birthday of his girlfriend Yuki (Moeka Hoshi), Ao Arakawa (Ryuya Wakaba) learns that she has been cheating on him. Sensing that Yuki does not want to give their relation a second chance, Ao demands her to leave. Yet not long after she has left, Ao starts, much to Yuki’s annoyance, to call her and ask her to come back.
Sometime later, Ao is approached by Machiko Takahashi (Minori Hagiwara), who wants to cast him in her graduation film. He accepts and asks the girl (Kotone Furukawa) who works at the local second-hand bookstore to help him prepare for the shoot. At the shoot, he meets Iha Jojo (Seina Nakata).
Over The Town offers a kaleidoscopic exploration of the crazy little dimension that enables as well as problematizes the functioning of the field of romance, i.e. the imaginary. By focusing on the influence of the imaginary on the romantic endeavors of subject, Imaizumi evades making a kind of romance narrative that celebrates ideal/true love but, instead, delivers a love story that knows that such kind of love is a mere fiction – romance, as Imaizumi shows, is radically imperfect.
It should be evident, from the break-up conversation between Ao and Yuki, that their relationship has its problems. One element that one can discern as problematic concerns the way Ao Arakawa deals with Yuki as female other. In this conversation, he does not only assume the position of the victim – you are the bad one, but he also refuses the take the subjectivity of Yuki, as female subject, into account. In short, he refuses to question his own responsibility in his romantic drama – he does not want to question his own part in the romantic failure, nor does he allow the female other raise the question of his own contribution.
By highlighting on Ao’s failure to meet Yuki as subject, Imaizumi broaches the first element that problematizes the field of romance, that of male insensitivity towards female subjectivity. Such male insensitivity is, as the narrative implies, function of a certain narcissistic self-centeredness – the focus on ‘me’ cancelling out the ‘you’. Yet, some female subjects, in their desperate need for love, readily accept a position that leaves ample space for the subjectivity to appear and to be appreciated. Certain female subjects can feel satisfied by being a mere ‘phallic’ accessory to their beloved. Other women, like Yuki, escape and turn their lover into the dupe of his own narcissistic blindness.
Other elements that Over The Town touches upon in its exploration of the imperfect nature of romance concerns the riddle of romantic repetition – I keep falling in love with married men – and the dynamic of using an other-sexed subject, a subject resembling the beloved Other at the level of the imaginary, to love that impossible Other through him. In the latter case, the male subject is loved not for who he as subject is, but for the impossible to attain other he imaginarily resembles. Imaizumi, furthermore, evokes the dynamic of using the romantic other to try, in vain, to fill up the subjective hole that the failure of the precious relation left and the (ab)use of the other-sexed other to ward off a lover who does not want to accept the break-up.
Imaizumi also does not fail to imply that the triangular structure that an affair installs is often necessary to maintain one’s desire towards the third other and that, in many cases, the attempt to turn this affair into an official relationship is doomed to fail. And, beyond evoking the impact of male insensitivity, he also beautifully evokes the inherent difficulty of meeting, within the confines of a romantic relation, the other-sexed other as a subject, a difficulty often absent from interactions between two subjects that are devoid of any romantic intentions.
Yet, nowhere is the fundamental role that the imaginary plays in the field of romance so precisely and lightheartedly underlined as in the finale. This dimension, which is, of course, the dimension where the attraction to the other sex plays out, is shown in this finale to be the dimension that forms the main obstacle to an inter-subjective meeting as well the dimension that is necessary to bind people romantically together – the pleasure of being together is primarily generated in the imaginary.
What stands out in the composition of Over The Town – a blend of fixed shots, semi-fixed shots, and following shots – is the use of temporally long static shots to frame conversations. This simple style of framing, a framing refusing the use of the cut, succeeds in putting the emphasis on the relational tension between characters and reveal, in a very natural way, the effect that the exchange of signifiers has on the emotional state of the subject – e.g. facial expressions and body language, as well as the impact that the unwanted lack of speech/silence has on one’s body language.
What makes this style of framing work effective is, of course, the performances of the actors/actresses. Why there is not real stand-out performance, each actor and actress succeed in delivering the necessary amount of naturalism and nuance. Without such naturalism, Over The Town would never been able to become such enjoyable exploration of the disturbances in the field of romance. So, while the simple style of framing allows the finely composed and emotionally rich conversations to come to their full right, the performances – and, to be complete, the chemistry between the performers – are fundamental in turning many of these conversational moments into subtle and nuanced instances of relational poetry.
Over The Town is, in short, an amazing narrative. Not only is Imaizumi’s narrative littered with a multitude of beautifully nuanced moments of natural relation poetry, Imaizumi also succeeds to show the spectator that the only kind of romance available for the human subject is one that is problematized (and supported) by the imaginary and perverted by the subjective logic that hides itself behind the fantasmatic image of a perfect romance.
Psycho-note 1: The repetition at the level of the romantic partner is, strictly speaking, not function of the imaginary, but of the symbolic, the unconscious of the subject. While most of the other dynamics that we mentioned find their origin in the logic of the subject, these dynamics do manipulate the imaginary and problematize the possibility to meet oneself as subject as well as the romantic other as subject. The installation and maintaining of the triangular structure by starting an affair, for that matter, seems to depend, at least partially, on a conscious or an unconscious refusal to show one’s subject to the romantic other.