Some spectators might know Shindo Takahiro from his debut feature film, Girls Don’t Cry (2018). Yet, his feature film, which became rather popular in Japan during his initial run, never made it overseas. Luckily, all is different for Takahiro’s second feature film, Closet (2020).
One night, at an Izakaya, Tasuku Jinno (Yosuke Minagawa) is approached by his old friend Takagi Noboru (Shinji Ozeki). Upon hearing he is still single, he promptly invites him to work for his company as a sleep-companion to help troubled subjects to relax, sleep, and detox their heart. The first time Tasuku needs to deal with a client, he fails, but gradually he becomes better at it. Yet, one day, he is accused of raping a client.
Takahiro’s Closet touches, most clearly, upon the pulsing need for subjects to attain a certain intimacy with other subjects. Yet, it is not a physical kind of intimacy that these lost souls seek. Rather, for most of our troubled subjects, the establishment of a certain safe physical closeness functions as a prerequisite to express something of their inner struggle to someone who listens and allow something of their anguish diminish.
The very existence of Soineya, of sleep-companion services, in fact, turns Takahiro’s Closet into an indirect critique of Japan’s contemporary societal dynamics. The narrative echoes the very fact that a society intoxicated by consumption and attaining pleasure problematizes the establishment of inter-subjective bonds and forces the subject to meet the other at the level of the Imaginary, i.e. at the field where subjective suffering is forbidden to appear in signifiers. In this respect, Takahiro’s choice to set his narrative in Kabuki-cho, Shinjuku’s nightlife and pleasure district, is not accidental, but a deliberate choice. Kabuki-cho is not only a place where alcohol continuously flows and sex is practiced as a religion, but also a place where young wandering subjects easily fall prey to the exploitative intentions of others. The latter is painfully illustrated by the relational dynamic between Masako (Ryo Shinoda) and Nanami (Aino Kuribayashi).
Yet, Soineya is, in essence, not about enabling lost subject to establish a true intersubjective bond but about selling these lost subjects the very fiction of being inter-subjectively connected. It is this fiction that is the product they can consume to sedate the anguish that today’s society generates. Top host K’s advice (“Never reply to your patrons seriously”) beautifully underlines that the host should not meet the patron with his true subjectivity but with a fictional form of such subjectivity to enable the patron to believe that his subjective struggle is listened to and authenticated – verbally as well as physically.
Tasuku is not, as certain spectators might think, emotionally inhibited/repressed. Rather, he is someone who carefully hides his own subjectivity from others (within a mental closet), who protects himself by not allowing anything of his subject to leak through his speech. He is, in other words, a lost soul himself. For Tasuku, the signifier is a tool to install a subjective distance to the other, not a means to engage in and develop a more inter-subjective bond of trust. This dynamic is illustrated, for example, by Tasuku’s violent outburst. It is only via a sudden emotional lashing-out that can he reveal something of his subjectivity.
The spectator might wonder why Tasuku is marked by such a dynamic of depression and why the Other has attained such a threatening quality for him, a sensible threat that renders him unable to put his trust in this Other and forces him to keep his subjective struggle safely within his closet. Those spectators seeking a conclusive answer will be disappointed because the true origin of Tasuku’s protective stance is not explored. Yet, Takahiro evocatively reveals that Tasuku’s current depressive position is closely linked an incident that profoundly problematized his identification with the male subjective position of virility.
Due to this subjective dynamic, Tasuku quickly finds himself in a very contradictory situation in his work as sleep companion. Tasuku who is tasked to create with body and signifiers a safe place for other subjects to express their struggle is unable to find a safe place for himself within the ‘nocturnal’ relations with strangers. Yet, these encounters might enable Tasuku to open the door of his subject ajar and work-through the subjective burden that weighs on him.
The composition of Closet follows two tendences. Scenes taking place within interiors are generally framed with a combination of static, subtle dynamic shots, and subtle shaky shots, while scenes taking place within the sprawling streets of Tokyo’s Shinjuku are mainly composed with shaky dynamic shots. The use of documentary-styled shakiness in both compositional tendences gives Closet a sense of naturalism which, in turn, strengthens the veracity of Takahiro’s thematical exploration and societal critique.
Yet, the naturalism of the composition does not only depend on the Takahiro’s use of shakiness. What ensures that the narrative does not lose any of its naturalism is the natural but slightly muted colour- and lightning design. Besides giving Closet in a sense of realism, Takahiro’s artistic choice also adds a subtle forlorn tinge to the narrative’s atmosphere.
Shindo Takahiro’s Closet is a beautiful narrative that does not only touch upon the destructive impact of consumerism on interpersonal relationships and the deception that so often structures superficial interactions of romance, but also vividly explores how an imaginary injury can radically problematize a subject’s ability to meet the Other with his own subject. Takahiro’s narrative is a filmic piece that will not only induce a forlorn feeling in its spectators but also invite them to deeply question their own interpersonal functioning.