Kazuya Shiraishi, once the assistant director of Isshin Inudo and Isao Yukisada, is slowly making a name for himself as director. After delivering the highly erotic Dawn Of The Felines (2016), the touching romantic drama Birds Without Names (2017), the highly entertaining docudrama Dare To Stop Us (2018), and a gritty yakuza tale with The Blood of Wolves (2018), Shiraishi finally tries his hand at a straightforward family-drama.
Now screening at Nippon Connection 2021
One night, Koharu Inamura (Yuko Tanaka) stumbles into her home. After she has given her three children some rice balls, she confesses that she has murdered their father to protect them from his physical abuse and set them free. After her mother has left to turn herself in, the three children run away into the night.
15 years later, the children, now adults, each have their own life. Yuji (Takeru Satoh) works as a writer/photographer for an adult magazine, Daiki (Ryohei Suzuki) is a manager at a local electric shop, and Sonoko (Mayu Matsuoka), who still fantasizes about becoming a hairdresser, is working as a waitress at a snack-bar. One night, a strange figure appears in front of Inamura taxi. Much to Daiki and Sonoko’s surprise, it is their mother.
One Night is a narrative that shows, on the one hand, how a violent familial past influences a subject’s relational functioning but also how the mother’s act, an act aimed at destroying the abusive structure and set her children free, ultimately failed to set them free at a subjective level. While the abusive structure might have been annihilated in the real by the mother, the repercussions of being subjected to such violent dynamic are still felt at the subjective level and at the level of how the subject engages with the other in the social field.
Koharu’s violent act is – and this is extremely important – also not without repercussions on the subjectivity and relation functioning of her children. Why? Because Koharu, in her attempt to safe her children from their violent father, problematized her own symbolic position as mother – killing her husband meant sacrificing her function as mother. Yuji, Daiki, and Sonoko welcome Koharu back in a rather ambivalent manner precisely because her motherly act of protection deprived her children from her presence as mother. Yet – and this is important to note – Koharu returns fifteen years later, just like she promised, as if nothing has happened.
As the impact of the mother’s act on her children is central in One Night, one can easily discern that One Night is driven by two questions. Firstly, can a subject accept the woman who murdered his violent father and rendered her unable to fulfill her symbolic position as mother for a period as still being his mother? Secondly, what are the subjective and social effects of the motherly and loving act to safe her children (Narra-note 1)?
While we’re not going to provide an answer to the first question – to do so would spoil the film, we can answer the second question. What can we say about Sonoko, Daiki, and Yuji’s relational functioning?
Sonoko is marked by a broken future. She wanted to become a hairdresser, but the badmouthing at school forced her to drop out of school. She struggles with problematic drinking – the dynamic is never explored – and relations are not easy for her. Some might say that Shiraishi glances over Sonoko’s subjective struggle, but such view would forget that the most important aspect that marks her functioning is her subtle clinging to her mother, a clinging that allows her to avoid her suffering (Narra-note 1).
Daiki’s functioning is solely function of the past abuse. For him, the relation with the other/Other always forms a threat. Daiki, while having secured a social position as manager, husband, and father within the Other, struggles to function adequately in these positions. At his work, for instance, he tries to play his role of manager, but he is unable to deal with conflict – whenever conflict seems near, he tries to retreat, like a turtle in his shell, from the social scene. A similar dynamic characterizes his marital life. But in his marital life he does not only avoid conflict at all cost, but also ‘refuses’ to share his traumatic past with his wife. The true problem of Daiki’s marriage is function of his refusal to bring certain parts of his subject into play in the marital field and allow the marital other to meet his broken subject.
Yuji’s relational functioning is marked by a certain aggression towards the other and his mother in particular. It should be evident that Yuji’s interpersonal frictions are function of the unsaid, of something that could not be said for many years. While some of Yuji’s venomous statements approximate this unsaid, it remains a question whether he will eventually muster up the courage to confront his mother with the impact that her so-called loving and motherly act of protection had on his subject and subjectivity of his siblings.
While it is not evident as in Yuji’s case, the unsaid also plays an important role in the subjective functioning of Sonoko and Daiki. But while Yuji tries to provoke his mother, Sonoko and Daiki try to keep their ambivalence hidden for their mother. Yet, it is the contrast between these attempts and the otherwise passive interactions with their mother that echoes the presence of the unsaid. In short, between Koharu, who has resumed her life as if nothing happened, and her children, who are still marked by her murderous act, lies an unresolved emptiness, an emptiness that Yuji wants to deal with, but Sonoko and Daiki are afraid to bring out in the open.
While One Night offers a nuanced and rich exploration of the children’s relational struggles with others and the mother, this emphasis ultimately deprives Shiraishi’s finale from its own power. Yes, the finale is touching, but this touching nature is, in our view, mainly function of the effective musical accompaniment and not of any kind of heartfelt subjective change that precedes the rather melodramatic finale. Moreover, given the structure of the narrative, which consist for the most part out of exploration of relational struggles, some spectators may feel that the finale is forced – the finale feels too much as a narrative device to force the conclusion of hope rather than being an event that flows fluidly out of its exploration of ‘broken’ subjectivities.
The composition of One Night offers a well-balanced mix between dynamic moments (i.e. shots marked by either spatial or tracking cinematographical movement) and fixed moments (static shots). Yet, what makes One Night engaging is not the compositional mix as such, but the effective way in which an atmosphere of discomfort and hidden conflict is generated.
The atmosphere of One Night is determined by two different but interacting levels. The first level is the level of the signifier. The introduction of certain signifiers (e.g. Yuji’s fantasizing out loud about the possibility of his sister and brother being murdered, … etc.) and certain visual elements (e.g. Koharu entering the house all worn-out, Yuji’s flashbacks that show the physical abusive in all its confronting glory, … etc.) into the narrative space have no other effect than emphasizing the conflictual dimension that marks the relations between our characters. The second level concerns the level of cinematographical support, the role that the cinematographical frame plays. Within the cinematographical frame, two elements stand out: the darkish and ashen colour-design and the rather mysterious musical accompaniment. Both elements give this frame a premonitory dimension that, in turn, strengthens the ability of certain vocal and visual signifiers to evoke the underlying presence of interpersonal and subjective conflict.
While One Night is a great narrative, offering a nuanced and rich exploration of interpersonal dynamics, Shiraishi’s narrative fails in giving this rich tapestry of interpersonal conflict a fitting finale. The finale may be touching and provide a shimmer of hope for the future of this broken family, but its forced and melodramatic nature might deprive the spectator from the genuine catharsis he was looking for.
Narra-note 1: One Night also explores the subjective struggle of Michio Doka (Kuranosuke Sasaki), a middle-aged guy who starts working at Inamura Taxi. This side-story circles around his problematic past and the chance he gets to renew the bond with his son. Doka’s side-narrative will eventually clash with the main narrative and determine its direction.
Another side-story centers around another taxi driver Yumi Shibata (Mariko Tsutsui), who struggles with the care for her dementing mother-in-law and silently desire her death.
Narra-note 2: Sonoko seems to be the first child to accept her mother again – ‘seems’ because her believe that her mother did it to protect her children acts as a façade for her own ambivalent feelings towards her. It is, nevertheless, from this position that she tries to maintain the precarious and fictional familial peace and keep the unsaid of Yuji and Daiki unsaid.
It should be evident that Sonoko tries to maintain something that has already been lost. In a similar vein, one could contend that Sonoko tries to meet Koharu as the mother she was before the murder. It is by clinging to this motherly image, she is able to avoid confronting the subjective suffering that marks her.