Sasaki In My Mind (2020) review [Nippon Connection 2021]

Introduction

Takuya Uchiyama, a stylist turned director, first impressed audiences with his film Vanitas (2016) at the Pia Film Festival – securing, in fact, the audience award. This award gave Uchiyama the confidence to further pursue his career as a director. And now, he presents his new film Sasaki In My Mind, a film originally based on one of Gaku Hosokawa’s high school classmates.

Review

Yuji (Kisetsu Fujiwara) is a struggling actor that works in a ‘box-folding company’ to gain some income. Yuji’s friend, Sudo (Nijiro Murakami), is somewhat more successful as an actor, getting enough TV-drama roles to make a living. Sudo, sensing that his friend wants to give up his acting-dream, tells him that he should not give up acting.

Then, one day, Yuji encounters Tada (Shintaro Yuya), one of his high school friends, at the box-company. At night, at the Izakaya, after talking somewhat, Tada asks him why he did not show up at the reunion and informs him that Sasaki (Gaku Hosokawa) was there. While Yuji cannot truly explain his absence, Tada’s question forces Yuji to reminiscence about his high-school past and his ‘idiot’ friend Sasaki. Sometime later, Yuji, who is now rehearsing for a new play, receives some unsettling news about Sasaki. 

Sasaki In My Mind (2020) by Takuya Uchiyama

To gain a certain understanding of Sasaki in My Mind, one needs to explore/analyze Yuji’s subjective position. What marks his subjective position is not an avoidance of the truth that his life is a failure – he knows this truth rather well, but a refusal to consciously accept this truth that he is subjected to. When Tada confronts him with this failure at the izakaya –You’re not living it like you want to, he does not get irritated because his truth is revealed to him, but because Tada reveals his (unconscious) passive acceptance of the truth and emphasizes his inability to try and change his current situation. Yuji’s ‘desire’ to avoid, at all costs, a confrontation with his own passiveness concerning his current unsatisfying life is, in our view, the main reason why he – consciously or subconsciously – missed the reunion.

Another element that allows the spectator to better understand Yuji’s subjective position is his relationship with Sasaki. Via Yuji’s reminiscing – sometimes visualized via flashbacks, the spectator is given an insight into the subjective logic of Sasaki, how he determined the dynamics between our friends, and the central role he played in determining Yuji’s subjective trajectory. The birth of Yuji’s desire to become an actor, for instance, finds its cause in a comment by Sasaki – You should be an actor.

Sasaki In My Mind (2020) by Takuya Uchiyama

Yet, the flashbacks also reveal that their past was not ideal, that it had its own fair share of problems and struggles – e.g. Sasaki’s difficult (and superficial) relationship with his almost-never-at-home father, the conflict between Tada and Sasaki, Yuji’s subjective trouble of finding a desire that can animate him and give his future a direction, and Yuji’s rather cold relationship with his grandmother. These flashbacks furthermore reveal the external event that radically changed the relational dynamics between our friends and played an important role in our friends losing touch with each other and with Sasaki in particular.

In a certain manner, Ichiyama explores the ephemeral character of relationships that find their sole strength in the imaginary – relationships that are only centered on generating pleasure,  and the obstacle that such indulging in fun forms for relations to become grounded in inter-subjective dynamics, the difficulty to go beyond the ‘fun’ and address, at the level of the subject, the struggles and pain of the other and help him avoid a downward spiral (Narra-note 1). Yet, one can question if one, as teenager, can establish such subjectively grounded bonds.

Sasaki In My Mind (2020) by Takuya Uchiyama

In the composition of Sasaki In My Mind, a balanced mix of static and dynamic shots, two things stand out. First, Uchiyama is not afraid to abstain from using the cut, thus inserting many temporally long static shots into his composition. Due to this reluctance, Uchiyama has given his narrative has a gentle rhythm, a rhythm that ‘forces’ the spectator to explore the very subjective dynamics that animate the speech-interactions.   

Secondly, to highlight the difference between the past and his present, Uchiyama opted to adorn some of his flashbacks with bombastic music (Sound-note 1). This is, in fact, a clever choice, because he can strengthen the contrast between the moments of ‘imaginary fullness’ of Yuji’s high-school life and the ‘emptiness’ that marks his current situation, between the pleasant indulging in Sasaki’s antics and the discomfort that structures Yuji’s current interactions, and between the struggle to find a desire for the future and the disillusionment and dissatisfaction that poisons his current life. In other words, the contrast between the present and the past, often strengthened by the musical accompigment, allows the spectator to delineate what Yuji lost by losing touch with Sasaki (Narra-note 2).   

Sasaki In My Mind (2020) by Takuya Uchiyama

In some cases, Uchiyama even lets the musical accompaniment dictate the flow and structure of his visual sequences. It is due to this ‘marriage’ that the sequence that opens the narrative, just like an opening sentence of a book, succeeds in setting the mood and entice the spectator to keep on watching.

With Sasaki In My Mind, Uchiyama delivers a great and finely composed narrative that explores the ephemeral character of relationships that find their sole strength in the imaginary, in the thirst for gaining pleasure. Yet, Uchiyama is not a pessimist, underlining that the seeds to establish a more subjectively grounded relationship are already planted by those signifiers that had an impact on the trajectory of the subject and that the trajectory of one’s future can be altered by gaining an understanding in certain fragments of one’s past.  

Notes

Narra-note 1: It is the problematic role that the imaginary plays within relationship that allows one to say, just like a character in the narrative says, that a subject can even be alone with people/friends around him.

Narra-note 2: Yet the contrast between the present and the past also underlines that what has not changed, i.e. Sasaki’and Yuji’s subjective logic.

Yet, in the end, Yuji undergoes a subtle change. While it is not said with that many words, the change is instigated by Yuji’s acceptance of his own guilt with respect that happened with Sasaki.

Sound-note 1: Subtle musical accompaniment is used a decoration for sequences in the presence. The finale, for that matter, forms an important exception to this ‘rule’. The swelling of the music is expertly applied to emphasize Yuji’s gaining a certain understanding of his past, an understanding he can utilize to give his role in the play its ‘realism’.  

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