Spaghetti Code Love (2021) review [Japan Cuts 2021]

Introduction

It is not uncommon for artists, be it models, photographers, or actors, to take a try at directorial work. Takeshi Maruyama, for this respect, is a popular music video director. While both worlds share the language of the visual, the crafting of a music video or a commercial video is very different from utilizing the visual language to tell a story to an audience. Can Murayama proves his worth with his first feature-length movie or will his experience as music video director hinder his storytelling?

Review

Spaghetti Code Love is, in short, a narrative of missed encounters and unperceived relational misunderstandings and the subjective conflict that is created by the irresolvable conflict between social structures, as driven by ideals, fantasies, expectation, and discourses, and his desire. Yet, despite Murayama’s exploration of the ills of the subject as subjected to the fantasmatical machinery of society, it is also a narrative of chance, a narrative that underlines that the possibility for an inter-subjective encounter always lurks around the corner.

The dimension of a fundamental misunderstanding that marks relationships is, first and foremost, touched upon in the interactions between Sakura (Xiangyu), who is obsessed with dying and committing suicide, and her boyfriend Kei (Yuzu Aoki), who is more attached to his life and his love for Sakura. It is obvious by following the dynamic of their interactions that both are not able to fully understand the other as subject – Kei does not grasp her fear of living and Sakura does not understand his fear of dying. It is this missed inter-subjective encounter, rather than Sakura’s repeated attempts to implicate him in her fantasy of double suicide, that puts their relationship under pressure (Narra-note 1).

Spaghetti Code Love (2021) by Takeshi Murayama

This dimension of miscommunication is also explored via Himoru Tsubasa (Nino Furuhata) who has, despite being confident in his communication skills, not yet been able to utilize his skills to get some job-offers as a professional photographer. Of course, due to his continued failures, the spectator is forced to question his communication skills. What goes wrong? In our view, his failure is because the smooth signifiers he addresses to the others are insincere and empty. He tries to manipulate the others into liking him with imaginary flattery but fails to hide his real intentions behind his sweet talk. Yet, one day, he gets a chance to substitute Mr. Morota to do a photoshoot (Narra-note 2).

The romantic dynamic between Natsumi (Saya Kagawa) and Shingo (Hiroya Shimizu), Cocoro’s ex-boyfriend, allows us to understand the origin of relational mis-encounters even better, as it beautifully illustrates the very tension that problematizes and, in many cases, derails romantic relationships. In short, within their romantic relationship, their subjectivity fails to manifest itself. Rather than meeting each other as subject, both hides themselves behind the illusion of imaginary happiness and the need to protect a fictional relational harmony.

For Natsu, this is recurring relational problem. While she can give her boyfriends a taste of her beauty and the pleasure of her body, she is unable to reveal her subject (or, in her case, her subjective emptiness) to them and strengthen the romantic relation at the inter-subjective level. This inability forces the spectator to wonder what Natsu is searching for in her work as escort. If she is trying to find a subject that wants to reach beyond her façade of beauty and meet her as subject or an encounter of love that would allow her to reveal something of her subjectivity, it seems somewhat strange that she chooses a profession that depends on imaginary foreplay – i.e. foreplay with empty speech – and giving one’s body as a masturbatory tool to the male Other. In our view, what drives Natsu is the hysteric’s desire to be desired by others. It is in her work as escort that she finds a way to satisfy her insatiable desire to be loved and desired.

Spaghetti Code Love (2021) by Takeshi Murayama

Shizuku (Kaho Tsuchimura), a female part-timer who dedicates her whole life to her beloved Kajiwara (-), is driven by a similar desire. Her identity and pleasure are structured around the presence of this man in her life. Yet, what drives her devout dedication is not the desire to see the happiness of her beloved but the pleasure that she can extract from indulging in the fantasy that this man cannot live without her. Sadly, her beloved is already married. The heartbroken woman who puts her sole faith and money in fortunetellers also reveals that her inhibiting sadness is function of her desire to be desired by this man that left her.    

Besides the desire to be desired, Spaghetti Code Love also touches upon the most fundamental desire, the desire for recognition (by the Other). If one is granted such recognition, the subject can attain a certain symbolic existence, assume a certain position within a social network that enables one to gain some satisfaction from this societal Other.

Nowhere is this explored more clearly then in the case of model Rin Kurosu (Yagi Rikako), who is obsessed with getting approval from others – ‘love, money, and security, all come with being approved’. This impact such desire can have on one’s functioning is beautifully illustrated by the duality that marks her subject. On the one hand, she is marked by a deep insecurity fueled by her desire for recognition while, on the other hand, she displays a narcissistic confidence that is solely intended to silence her lingering insecurity and pretend to have what she did not genuinely receive yet, i.e. recognition. Thus, she acts as if she is the center of things and the only thing that matters is her world, her sensibilities, and her style. Kurosu has, in fact, granted herself the right to tyrannize and command others, without any consideration for the subjectivity of others. Devoid of any kind of symbolic recognition, she subjects others to her desires and accepts no dissidence (Narra-note 3, Narra-note 4).     

Given her tyrannical presence, it is not surprising that our model forgets that the societal structure one is subjected to can function in a very oppressive and inhibiting way. Yet her narcissistic ‘star-like’ behaviour craft might provoke an act of revenge that confronts her with the very limits of her indulgence and her own world. For others that wander in the street of Tokyo, the question becomes how one, given this conflictual relation between subjective desire and relentless societal structures and often upsetting relational dynamics, can create a possibility for oneself to attain a certain kind of subjective happiness.

Spaghetti Code Love (2021) by Takeshi Murayama

Singer-songwriter Cocoro (Toko Miura) is, not unlike Kurosu, in search for some recognition, for an Other that notices her talent. In Cocoro’s understanding, what renders the Other unable to grant her symbolic recognition is her lack of beauty. Yet, her lack is not real as such, but function of the way the societal Other, which follows and dictates the societal ideals of beauty and cuteness, forces herself to perceive herself. What causes her frustration is, in fact, nothing but the following realization: If the eye(s) of the Other would have deemed me beautiful, the symbolic recognition of my talent would have come ‘naturally’. But rather than trying to force such recognition, she decides to accept her ‘fate’, give up her passion, and sell her guitar at a pawn shop. Yet, Cocoro’s act is not merely a giving-up of her desire but also an attempt to avoid the possibility of being subjectively hurt by sharing her subjectivity to the other – be it as lover or as songwriter.

Besides exploring these two subjective desires, Maruyama also explores the eros-effect that falling in love and the heartbreak the loss of one’s beloved can have. Both dimensions are vividly touched upon in the narrative of an idol fan who is shocked to hear, on day, that his beloved idol Sarara (-) has retired. For him, the sudden appearance of Sarara whose bodily image enamored him gave him a reason and libido to live. It is, in fact, the very impossibility to turn his state of ‘being in love’ that kept him in a state of desiring and alive. Yet now she has retired, and he has promised to forget her after 1000 uber-eats deliveries, can he find another reason to live?    

The fundamental misunderstanding that marks human social bonds also impels certain subjects, like Natsu’s boyfriend Shingo, to avoid forming deeply attachments and establish true social bonds to attain happiness. But, one night, he loses his wallet and phone and tries to reach out to his followers, his so-called ‘friends’, to request help. Yet, because of his refusal to establish bonds beyond the imaginary of the screen and his reliance on a kind of satisfaction that depends on superficial virtual interactions, he has crafted a situation where, no help from his followers will come. To put it more psychoanalytically, by avoiding symbolic recognition and the formation of social bonds, he has transformed his bodily existence into merely a virtual phantom. For the others, he is but an image to interact with and attain some pleasure from.   

Spaghetti Code Love (2021) by Takeshi Murayama

What keeps the spectator engaged is the composition of Spaghetti Code Love. Maruyama’s composition is not only marked by a ferocious and visually enticing dynamism but also stands out due to its reliance on the evocative quality of the image and the signifier. In truth, this lyrical style of composing allows Maruyama to fluidly concatenate intertwining fleeting impressions and induce a certain forlorn mood in the spectator. It is, as a matter of fact, the very intermingling of this atmosphere of desolation with the visual beauty of the metropolitan area called Tokyo that turns Maruyama’s Spaghetti Code Love into a visual poem that not only breathes the melancholic zeitgeist of these times but also allows the spectator a full-frontal confrontation with this lingering senseless solitude and relational ravage.

Yet, Maruyama’s evocative imagery and poetry of the signifier would not have been able to be such a powerful whole if it were not for the amazing performances. More than anything, what allows Spaghetti Code Love to touch to spectator and jolt his subjectivity are the natural performances of the actors and actresses. The forlorn atmosphere of the colorful cityscape of Tokyo and the glimmer of hope that resides in the dark corners of this vast concrete maze only becomes able to enthrall the spectator because the performances enable the characters to speak to the spectator’s subjectivity – his fears and his hopes.

Maruyama’s Spaghetti Code Love is, in short, a masterpiece. Not only does he masterly paint the melancholic zeitgeist of these times with his evocative composition, but he also beautifully explores the irresolvable tension that marks our neurotic desires – be it a desire to be desired or a desire for recognition – and the societal and relational context that limits and inhibits us. The powerful and naturalistic performances ensure that Spaghetti Code Love powerfully speaks to the spectator’s subjectivity – his fears and hopes – and enables Maruyama’s evocation of a glimmer of hope that remains present in this dark depressive modern relational mess to positively impact his audience.

Notes

Narra-note 1: The possibility of Sakura to escape her obsession with death depends solely on whether she can be confronted with a relational desire that allows her to choose Eros above Thanatos.   

Narra-note 2: When the adolescent, who has travelled to Tokyo to see Himuro, reveals to him that she has quit school and everything she posts on Instagram and twitter is merely fake, she beautifully underlines how social media is, first and foremost, an imaginary business and that one often uses such media to visualizes one’s ideal-ego for the Other or to pacify the Other by visualizing what this societal Other expects. It is such kind of visualization that allows the subject to get some pleasure.  

Narra-note 3: What makes her so narcissistic, so entitled, is not only that she believes herself to be the center of ‘her’ world, but also her inability to grant others their chance to ‘manipulate’ their environment to attain one’s own form of happiness.  

Narra-note 4: Kurosu rightly states that there are people that passively accept their subjection to their societal and relational environment and people who actively try to manipulate their environment to attain happiness. Yet, in the case of Kurosu, her belief to change her environment to benefit her happiness has led her to exhibit narcissistic tendencies

Yet, let us also note that her success as model is more due to her famous parents than because of her talent. It was, in other words, her parents that open doors for her and not her own actions.

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