B/B (2020) review [OAFF 2021]

Introduction

Next up in our search to discover new directorial talent – OAFF is always a good place to discover promising young Japanese directors, is Kosuke Nakahama’s graduation work and first feature-length director’s work, B/B.

Review

One day, a detective (-) wants to question Sana Asami (Karen) in relation to a recent murder of a convenience store owner. As Sanagi suffers from a Multiple Personality Disorder [MPD] or Dissociative Identity Disorder [DID], the questioning needs to happen with her therapist Maki (-) present. Even so, the questioning remains difficult as the personalities emerge randomly, some willing to talk and some who are not.

B/B (2020) by Kosuke Nakahama

B/B is as much a lighthearted narrative about a blossoming friendship between Shiro (Koshin Nakazawa), the son of the victim, and Sana and her multitude of personalities, personalities that influence her comportment within the social field, as it is a dark mystery narrative that explores the theme of physical abuse and the enduring failure within Japanese society to protect those who need protecting. This failure is, de facto, the main theme of the narrative. Nakahama’s B/B has no other goal than to confront the spectator with the human tendency to misrecognize the pain of others and to protect his own mental equilibrium by remaining blind to the traumatic real that dislodges other subjects.

While it is not unusual to explore this theme in Japanese cinema, Nakazawa’s treatment does succeed to explore this theme in a fresh manner. What makes Nakazawa’s approach to this theme stand out is that he explores the theme of societal failure through the device of mental disorder, Dissociative Identity Disorder. Of course, far from offering a faithful representation of the disorder, Nakahama utilizes the element of DID as a device to create an interesting narrative – with a lot of banter – and craft a myriad of visually pleasing moments.

B/B (2020) by Kosuke Nakahama

One element that underlines the fact that Nakahama took some artistic liberties in representation concerns the manner Sana interacts with her different personalities. It is, in truth, extremely rare for people who suffer from DID to interact with and see her different personalities the way Sana does, i.e. by talking to ‘herself’. Yet – and this is important – Nakahama does touch upon the particularity of Sana’s (fictional) case. The fact that he felt necessary to underline this particularity nevertheless shows that he, when writing this narrative, tried to find a balance between the reality of this specific mental disorder and creative exploitation that this reality allows for.    

The visualization of the conversations and the interactions between her different personalities – up until six at a time – as well as the acts by some of her personalities are mainly utilized to infuse lightheartedness into the unfolding of Nakahama’s narrative. These lighthearted moments are furthermore also used as a vehicle to introduce a rich tapestry of pop-culture references (Nintendo Switch, Tom and Jerry, Dragonball, Ratchet and Clank, Street Fighter, The Sixth Sense, Godzilla, … etc.).

B/B (2020) by Kosuke Nakahama

The composition of B/B consists out of a concatenation of fixed shots and, to a lesser degree, spatial moving shots. What stands out in Nakahama’s composition is the at times fast-paced editing and his approach to shot and scene composition. The fast-paced editing gives the unfolding of the narrative a powerful and rhythm but, it must be said, the editing is sometimes a little bit too energetic for its own good. In a few instances, the fast pace of the editing problematizes the slower flow of the on-screen interactions.

The imagery of B/B proofs that Nakahama put thought into his shot and scene compositions. By playing with geometry, he succeeds in infusing his composition with some subtle artful shots and his play with visual repetition, by which he emphasizes certain small acts (e.g. a hand-movement, twitching of the eye, etc.) by a character), allows him to decorate the conversational flow and strengthen certain spoken signifiers.   

B/B (2020) by Kosuke Nakahama

The most important element that makes B/B so enjoyable is the acting. While each actor/actress representing a personality living inside Sana pleases with their performance, it is Karen, who needs to swiftly shift between different modes of presence, that steals the show and engages the spectator from beginning till the end.

While the theme that structures B/B is far from new or radical, Nakahama succeeds in delivering his message concerning the human tendency to misrecognize the traumatic pain of others and to protect one’s own mental equilibrium in a fresh and touching manner. Add some nicely composed shots and a captivating performance by Karen into the mix and you get one truly pleasing cinematographical experience.  

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