At around the same time that Tatsuya Yamanishi established the theater unit ‘Pink Liberty’, he started to take script writing and directing seriously. In 2016, one year after the birth of Pink Liberty and his directorial desire, he booked a first success by winning with his short film, Goodbye Midori at the Grand Prix at the 6th Quarter Star Contest. And now, five years later, he presents his debut feature.
Casting agent Norio (Kou Maehara) has been happily living together with his longtime partner Mari Tanabe (Nao), with whom he shares a small apartment. Yet, one day, after coming back home after a very exhausting day, he finds a woman (Hana Amano) he does not know sleeping on his sofa. After waking up, she tells Norio that her name is Mari and that she was meant to live at his place.
In Mari and Mari, Norio is confronted with two shocking events. First, he is suddenly confronted with the appearance of another Mari in his apartment. For Norio, Mari is not only an undesirable object, but also an object that, due to her radical presence, disturbs the peaceful everydayness of his life with Mari. He can only meet her as an object because the estranging nature of her tranquil presence that causes his radical perplexity effaces his ability to meet her as a subject, but also because the only thing that he wants is to remove this disturbing object from his life and return to his dreamy happiness with his beloved Mari.
Yet, the second shock, one that only slowly bursts into his consciousness, is the disappearance of his beloved Mari. She does not only return home, but she also does not pick up her phone. Of course, Norio starts searching for her, to regain the missing element that made his life whole – he goes to her workplace to hear she suddenly quit, he visits her sister and learns that she disappeared before, … etc. Yet, Norio’s search only makes her sudden disappearance more mysterious.
Yet, the continued confrontation with her absence does not only put Norio’s daily life into disarray, but also invites him to question the tender mundane existence he shared with her and explore whether there was any truth to the love she had for him. To put it more psychoanalytically, the two Real elements – the lingering presence of this unknown Mari and the radical absence of his beloved, softly coerces him to dismantle his imaginary fantasmatical ideas about their romantic happiness and consider the lack of an inter-subjective foundation for their happiness (Nara-note 1). Did Norio, by reveling in his romantic happiness, not erased something of Mari’s subjectivity?
Yet, such questioning or exploration does not take place, because Norio holds on his fantasmatical constructs, fantasies that fuel his dwindling belief that she will return (Narra-note 2). His romantic fantasies are, in fact, his last defense against the abyss that puts everything – his subject and his relationship, radically into question.
What Mari and Mari thus touches upon is how a subject, within his romantic relationship, contaminates the subject of the person he loves with his fantasies and how such contamination can efface the subject of the beloved in question. The spectator is led to ponder over the conflict between the symbolic (i.e. inter-subjective) and the imaginary nature (i.e. the fantasies of perfect happiness) of their relationship when Norio hallucinates her next to him. This sudden hallucination might make certain spectators think that the absence of his beloved drives him slightly mad, but, in our reading, this hallucination underlines that Norio’s fantasmatic poison complicated Mari’s subjective existence.
Yet, with the appearance of a new Mari, Norio seems to get a second chance. Will this new Mari persuade Norio to abandon his fantasies about his former happiness and give up his hopes to regain what he has lost? And can Norio, if he allows this new Mari into his life, give her subject more breathing space, and allow her to play a more active role in their romantic dynamic? Will he be able to gain his happiness from their intersubjective dynamic rather than by subjecting his beloved to his romantic fantasies and wishes?
With his composition, Yamanishi proves that he has a keen compositional sense. He does not only visually please the spectator by littering his composition with shot compositions that exploit urban architectural and interior geometry in a delightful way, but he also delivers visually satisfying shots by subtly playing with the interaction between light and shadow for compositional purposes.
The poetic flavour that marks Yamanishi’s composition is naturalistic in nature. Not only because he utilizes the ‘natural’ geometrical dimension of the urban environment and interiors, but also due to his choice to bathe his narrative in natural lightning and organic colours (Colour-note 1). Yet, his reliance on the sprawling presence of shadows does not only emphasize the naturalism of his compositional poetry and narrative. His thoughtful lightning-design also adds a subtle foreboding element into the unfolding of Yamanishi’s narrative and makes, when the shift from dreamy marital happiness to a state of subjective disarray has taken place, gives the narrative’s atmosphere its desolate sense and makes the subtle despair that marks Norio’s subject and the ‘unheimliche’ that haunts his apartment truly sensible (Cine-note 1, Narra-note 3).
Yamanishi’s Mari and Mari is not a strange, but an estranging narrative. Yet, the estranging character of the narrative is not function of the effective evocation of the unheimlich, but how Yamanishi utilizes this ever-sensible unheimlich to touch upon an inerasable problem that marks our romantic life, the danger that our focus on imaginary pleasure problematizes the inter-subjective dimension of our relation. Yamanishi has crafted a beautiful narrative that seems to bear no relation to our romantic life at first, but ultimately hits close to home, especially for those able to read all the narrative’s subtleties.
Narra-note 1: We should also underline that the continued presence of the other Mari strengthens the absence of his beloved Mari. The face of the Other Mari confronts him with the face that is not there, the body of the Other Mari exposes the absence of the body he wants to hold.
Narra-note 2: The fact that he believes that she will return and that he has not abandoned his fantasies about their relationship is underlined by his feverish attempts to call her.
Narra-note 3: The unheimlich nature of Norio’s apartment is further strengthened by some unexplainable but unheimlich similarities between the women. Not only does she make his favorite clam and rice dish like his beloved, but she also knows the melody of the song he made to celebrate his love for his Mari.
Colour-note 1: Yet, despite utilizing a natural lightning-design, spectator will also notice that the, to evoke the summery feel, adds a yellowish tinge to his otherwise darkish and dull colour-palette.
Cine-note 1: What allows the darkness that marks many narrative spaces truly to gain its foreboding dimension is Yamanishi’s use of long takes. It is, in fact, the interaction between these long takes and the darkness of the visuals that forces the spectator, who is left in wait for something to happen, to feel uncomfortable about what will come nex