One film that screened as part of the Supported Program [Housen Cultural Foundation: Support for film study and production] is Hiroshi Gokan’s second-feature film Goto-san. Today, we review and analyze his latest film.
Gotō-san (Hirofumi Suzuki), a freeter who lives and works at the internet café called Sunflower to maintain his peaceful lifestyle. One day, one of the customers, a customer known as Safety Vest Beardy Guy, is found dead in his booth. Goto-san is ordered, by his boss (-), to clean the booth. Riko (Tomomi Fukikoshi), a sex-worker, also lives at the internet café, yet unbeknownst to Goto-san. One night, after receiving a coupon from his boss for cleaning the booth, he meets her at the erotic establishment she works at. Romantic feelings in him start to blossom.
Goto-san is, in a certain way, a slice-of-life narrative, a slice-of-life narrative that explores -we put it in a rather abstract way – the effects of the encounter between a blossoming romantic desire and a societal machine driven by a thirst for profit and cheap labor.
Gokan’s slice-of-life narrative focuses on Goto-san. One could say that Goto just lives his life – sleep, work, eat and repeat. Yet, at the sex-business he visits, he feels the need to lie about his occupation – telling sex-worker Riko he works as a first mate on a ship instead of telling her that he works at a 24-hour internet café. This lie underlines that even though Goto is currently satisfied with the peaceful flow of his daily life that he is conscious of the societal prejudices about freeters and conscious of the fact that he, in the eyes of the female other, would appears as being castrated, i.e. that he thinks that he, in his current state, cannot be an (phallic) object-of-desire for the female Other.
Yet, this lie and the fact that he does not know that Riko lives at the same internet café he lives and works at puts him, unbeknownst to him, into a precarious position. At all times, an encounter between him and Riko may happen, an encounter that will not also reveal his lie, but emphasize the very castration he tries to hide to this enamored female other. If such an encounter were to happen, can their blossoming romantic interest in each other survive this revelation of his assumed truth? This is the main question that drives Gokan’s narrative.
Besides focusing on Goto-san and his attempt to establish a romantic relationship, Gokan’s narrative also underlines the societal context in which Goto-san’s story unfolds. This society is not only preparing for the Olympics by redeveloping large parts of Tokyo – a large investment to provide games to the proletarians but also to further enrich the rich, but also a society that remains blind to the increase in poverty and aims to sustain corporate exploitation and low-paying dead-end job labor. Moreover, the impact of the covid-virus on hotel-like businesses and its personnel is also vividly highlighted and plays an important role in creating the finale of Gokan’s narrative.
Riko can be understood as a victim of the capitalistic mindset. Her choice of occupation was not motivated by any passion, but by a desire for money. If she feels flat, if she feels emotionally empty, it is precisely because she lets her life be solely determined by her need for money. Yet, she is in search for someone to reanimate her, someone who cause the birth of a certain passion, a certain emotionality, in her body.
The position of the freeter is, in this respect, revealed as one of the ways to escape the exploitive dynamics of the liberal capitalist machine, but, later in the narrative, this truth of this position is uncovered. The position of the freeter is, in truth, a very precarious position that can easily fall victim to the malfunctioning of the capitalistic machine or can easily be swayed or forced, by the promise of easy-to-get yet little money, to enter the capitalistic machine in one of its ugliest forms. To try to establish a romance with Riko, Goto-san starts working, besides his job at the internet café, as a temp-recruit. To have a chance with Riko, he decides to shake up his peaceful daily rhythm and allow himself to be caught within one of the capitalistic dynamics that thrive on exploitation.
The composition of Goto-san stands out due to its measured dynamism, mixing spatial and tracking movement into slow-moving but fluid moments. Static shots are utilized as well and often stand out due to their composition, offering a subtle but pleasing play with geometry (Cine-note 1). Gokan is also not afraid to subtle decorate his cinematographical composition, e.g. by integrating a pleasing and well-composed jump-cut sequence into the compositional flow of his narrative.
Goto-san might start of as a subdued romance narrative, but ends up being, due to Gokan’s great script, turned into a critique of the current societal context. By exploring the encounter between Goto’s romantic desire – a desire to be the object of desire of a female other – and the societal machine driven by a thirst for profit and cheap labor, Gokan reveals the position of the freeter as an attempt to escape the capitalistic machinery but also as the position that most easily falls prey to the ugliest structures of exploitation to keep the profit-focused system going.
Cine-note 1: Gokan either exploits architectural features or manipulate interiors to give his static shots their subtle but pleasing artfulness.