Short Movie Time: Born Pisces (2020) review [Japan Cuts 2021]


In 2017, Yoko Yamanaka surprised international audiences with Amiko (2017), a film she made after being fed up with film school. While her first feature length film was somewhat rough around the edges, she delivered a pleasant narrative about the captivating deceptiveness of the imaginary and problematic nature of shyness. This time, Yamanaka delivers a short within practice program in the NDJC (New directions in Japanese Cinema) project.


Born Pisces might not reveal its themes that clearly, but, as the narrative unfolds, it becomes clear that Yamanaka’s latest narrative explores problematic family structures. In the case of Midori (Maharu nemoto), we see how the mental struggles of the parental Other – struggles indirectly expressed via speech and acts – influences the logic of the child, i.e. the way the child behaves. Yamanaka shows that, in the interaction between Midori and her mother, she tries not to be a burden to her mother. With a mother ready to blame her for causing her trouble and unable to listen to her subjectivity, Midori tries, with her apologetic speech and acts, to ensure that she does not lose this parental love. Rather than her acts being driven by the desire for parental love, he acts are driven by the fear of losing her mother’s love.

Futa (Ryo Togawa), for that matter, is utilized – some would say abused – by his mother to deliver pamphlets containing the word of God. His childlike innocence is exploited to try to gain more followers for her mother’s religion. The fact that he readily aids his mother is not because Futa believes in the existence of the fatherly God, but because he is driven by a desire to be loved by her. Yet, his mother, who is so fixated on spreading the word of God, is unable to approach him as subject – her fixation silences the signifiers of her son.

Born Pisces (2020) by Yoko Yamanaka

What Yamanaka’s somewhat darkish colour-schemes vividly implies is that any form of parental absence – be it physical (fathers) or mental (mothers) – creates a situation of solitude for the child. When the parents, for whatever reason, are unable to interact with the child in a manner that allows the child to share his subjective world with the parental Other a situation of subjective solitude blossoms. Of course, such familial situation leads to subtle or less subtle forms of rebellious acting-out.

The most pleasant element of Yamanaka’s composition is her use of naturalistic floating camera movement. The reliance on such kind of floating dynamism does not only give the unfolding of her narrative an attractive flow, but also gives the concatenation of fragmentary impressions depicting the lives of Midori and Fuka their naturalistic feel. The naturalistic feel of the composition is further supported by the pleasant and believable performances.

With Born Pisces, Yamanaka does not only reaffirm that she has talent but also that she has further improved her compositional style and her storytelling. In an evocative and visually engaging way, she elucidates the well-known psychological fact that a parental inability or refusal to approach one’s child as the level of his subject ultimately results in a form of acting-out.


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