While the big production companies of Japanese cinema invest in safe projects, adapting popular manga and novels, Japan’s indie scene thrives on directors delivering more intimate and personal narratives. One of these indie directors is Yusuke Okuda, who utilized his own experiences, to deliver his second-feature film, Somebody’s Flowers.
One day, Takaaki Nomura (Shinsuke Kato), an unmarried middle-aged man, visits his parental apartment. His mother, Machi (Yoshiyuki Kazuko) has been taking care of her husband Tadayoshi (Takahashi Choei), who suffers from dementia and often wanders off. The sight of Satomi (Honoka Murakami), the care worker, breathes life into his unfulfilled desire for romance and marital happiness.
Not that much later, the Kusumotos moves in the apparent block. One afternoon, their son Sota (Ruse Oota) rings Machi’s doorbell to ask for a first aid kit for his bleeding finger. She decides to take him to the hospital and leave her husband alone in the house. Upon returning home, they discover that Sota’s father has been involved in an accident with a falling flowerpot. Satomi and Takaaki find traces of soil on the balcony and on Tadayoshi’s hands.
Somebody’s Flowers does not simply deal with loss or the importance of speaking about the deceased, but explores the difficulty to give a peaceful place to one’s loss within one’s subjective experience and logic. The beauty of Okuda’s narrative lies in the elegance and subtlety by which it frames the struggle of mourning and the difficulty of resolving the emptiness that radically problematized one’s place within the relational structure – be it familial or societal. Okuda’s choice to leave certain strands of the narrative unresolved plays an important role in giving the struggle to grieve its touching resonance.
That the process of mourning is littered with obstacles is, first and foremost, explored in the main character of the narrative, Takaaki. Okuda elegantly reveals that his subjective logic (and societal position) is influenced by his failure to fulfil certain parental expectations (Narra-note 1). The enduring potency of this failure is caused by the untimely death of his older brother Kento and the guilt he was forced to assume by his father. The lack of his brother, in a certain sense, intensified his lack as son and subject.
The subjective burden of his failure/lack is made sensible when Takaaki assumes that his demented father’s act of calling him Kento is an ongoing punishment for his failure and involvement in his brother’s dead. The spectator also feels that Tadayoshi’s failure to acknowledge his symbolic existence underpins his reluctance to visit his parents often.
The flower-pot incident changes some relational dynamics drastically. First and foremost, as the flower-pot in the fatal accident belonged to Okabe (Atsushi Shinohara), his position within the area of apartment blocks is radically problematized. Okabe is suddenly subjected to the blaming ‘eye’ of the Other – i.e. people look at him and speak behind his back. The oppressive presence of this eye relentlessly demands that Okabe assumes some responsibility for the incident.
Shota’s loss of his father radically cuts him off from the fatherly figure he so loves and throws him into a sort of silent but violent deadlock (e.g. throwing eggs from the second or third floor to Okabe). It is, in fact, because Okabe attracts all his anger – the object-of-anger – and contempt that any kind of speech about the loss of the father is impossible. The object of anger closes of the empty hole of loss and keeps the process of grieve in a stranglehold. And is the same not true for Takaaki? Does his continued silence at the support group not underline that his voice of grief is also imprisoned by his anger (Narra-note 2)? In this sense, Somebody’s Flowers eventually evokes the following question: Can both subjects by interacting with each other find a different way to deal with their loss?
Satomi problematizes her position by informing Takaaki of her suspicion that his father bears some responsibility in the dramatic incident. Takaaki radically brushes her off, refusing to believe that the signs (i.e. the open window and the dirt of the balcony and the gloves of his father) might signal that his father might be involved in the tragic accident. The alternative interpretation of the event that he offers her is, in truth, merely a shoddily constructed defence to quell his lingering fear and suspicion. His act to call Satomi’s company and terminate her contract is, in this sense, another attempt to avoid the need to question his father. Can Takaaki eventually accept the possibility of his father’s involvement? And can such consciousness allow him to see the symbolic position of the culprit in a more humane light? If so, this change in perspective might help unchain his blocked process of grief.
Okuda’s composition, which offers a straightforward mix of static shots and, in some cases, some tracking shots, stands out due to its naturalistic style. By thoughtfully playing with the temporal dimension of shots, Okuda creates many visual moments that, by inviting careful exploration and interpretation from the spectator, attain a subtle naturalistic poetic tinge. Moreover, with his composition, Okuda proves that he has a firm understanding of the signifying potential of visual elements – he understands that visual elements, by functioning within a symbolic system, generate meaning (Psycho-note 1).
The naturalism is, of course, not only function of Okuda’s compositional play with the cut, but also of the naturalistic lightning and the natural performances – Shinsuke Kato and Misa Wada impress the most with their layered performances. These three elements fluidly work together to deliver an engaging and believable exploration of the struggle that awaits those that are forced to grieve the loss of loved ones.
Somebody’s Flowers is a beautiful narrative that explores the mental and societal obstacles that litter the path of those subjects who suddenly need to grieve the loss of loved ones with a refined elegance and a pleasing naturalism. Okuda succeeds in translating his own experiences into a meandering narrative that, without any doubt, will profoundly resonate with its audiences.
Narra-note 1: The presence of parental expectations is beautifully highlighted by Machi’s speech and acts. Her lingering expectation of seeing him married is revealed by her quick realization of Takaaki’s interest in Satomi, her unsubtle questioning of her son’s current romantic life, as well as by her demands (e.g. “Escort Satomi downstairs.”).
Narra-note 2: Let us note that the support group reveals how difficult the grieving process can be. Each of the members show, in their own right, where their grieving process falters. Either they find themselves on the verge of depression or nearly consumed by unresolved anger. In this sense, the support-group ensures that each of the members does not fall victim to feelings that, ultimately, will be self-destructive.
Psycho-note 1: Okuda knows how to structure or concatenate visual elements to create a visual ‘sentence’, a sentence easily put into signifiers by the spectator.