It is not uncommon that directors, who are graduates of a documentary course, venture into the world of fiction-film. One such director is Keiichiro Sawa, who impressed critics at the Yokohama Independent Film Festival 2017 with his fiction short Beyond The Night and pleased audiences with his feature film debut Moratorium (2019). Two years later, at the SKIP CITY international D-cinema festival, Sawa presents his second feature film, Resident of Alice.
Tsugumi Minato (Rinka Kashimoto), who has been sexually abused by her father, has been living for a few years in a family home run by ‘mom’ Kamo (Harumi Shuhama). One day, after collapsing on a bridge, she is approached by Kenji Maeno (Tanri) who helps her get to the family home. Asking why she lives there, Tsugumi responds that it’s because she suffers from the Alice in Wonderland syndrome. Sometime later, Tsugumi asks Kenji if he wants to have sex with her.
Resident of Alice is a film that, in a moving way, explores the importance of developing inter-subjective bonds to somewhat stabilize the traumatic friction between one’s subject and the other/Other and the relational difficulties that arise from a subjective logic that has been impacted by an inerasable traumatic experience.
Both thematical sides are, in some way or another, touched upon in the lives of the three female protagonists. Tae (Yuka Ban) has suffered from a physically violent alcoholic father who demanded that his law (e.g. Bring me my highball!) was obediently followed to the letter. Riko (Kanane Tempaku) is a victim of a woman who wants to play the mother in front of others and in the eye of the societal Other but keeps punishing her child for her divorce by neglecting her and openly indulging in sexual pleasure. The sign that Riko has accepted her blame is violently inscribed in her left arm.
Yet, the impact of a traumatic event on one’s functioning is most clearly explored in Tsugumi’s case, whose trajectory from the main narrative thread of the narrative. This impact is not only sensibly in her inability to speak about her traumatic truth, be it to her mother or Kenji, but also in how it impacted the meaning of sexuality within Tsugumi’s subject. While some spectators might find it strange that Tsugumi offers sexual services to men, such acts are not uncommon among subjects who have been sexually abused. For Tsugumi and others, enacting such kind of sexuality functions as a repetitive attempt to actively master what one has been passively subjected to. Sawa’s narrative also touches upon the well-known fact that, in many cases of abuse, seemingly ‘unrelated’ events attain a traumatic value, are transformed into traumatic signs. In Tsugumi’s case, such traumatic sign is the mere act of eating fruit.
And what about the Alice in Wonderland syndrome? Despite this syndrome being neurological in nature, can we, instead, assume a psychological source for her symptom? Can we not, in other words, read her visual symptom as being caused of her sexual trauma? The visual experience of becoming smaller might very well be a manifestation of her fear to be consumed by the Other, of being radically erased as subject by the Other. The symptom is, in this sense, a sign that the sexual trauma by her father radically problematized the relation between her subjective position and the societal Other she needs to survive in.
The composition of Resident of Alice stands out due to its pleasant flow and its elegance. Yet, the flow of Sawa’s narrative is not, as often is the case, determined by playing with cinematographical dynamism, but by the creation of poetic moments, either via compositions that mingle past and present to reveal how Tsugumi’s current acts are function of her past or via compositions that, by mixing music and image, breathe life in Tsugumi’s forlorn monologues. Sawa also delivers fleeting moments of poetry via some of his shot-compositions.
The elegance of Resident of Alice is also evident in the way that Sawa implies the traumatic event Tsugumi was subjected to. This elegance is function of Sawa’s thoughtful combination of the emotional power that resides in the facial expression (of Rinka Kashimoto), the impact of the signifier (i.e. the counting), and the visual decorations that emphasize the fixation of the traumatic element (i.e. the eating of a peach by the violator) (psycho-note 1). Decorations are also thoughtfully utilized to evoke the continued impact of the past sexual abusive event on Tsugumi’s functioning.
Resident of Alice is a very accomplished narrative. Sawa pleases the spectator with his elegant and, at times, poetic compositions, but also delivers a narrative with a satisfying psychological depth – i.e. exploring the impact of defective familial dynamics on the logic of the subject, and a rich emotional texture – a mixture of pain, sadness, hope, and happiness.
Psycho-note 1: The act of eating a piece of fruit is not without its sexual connotations.