It might not come as a surprise that tomato farmer Juichiro Yamasaki explores rural themes in his directorial work. His debut-feature The sound of Light (2011), for instance, explored the subjective struggle of man who feels forced to chose between following in his father’s footsteps as farmer or his own desire to become a musician. And in 2015, he delivered a highly inventive jidaigeki, Sanchu Uprising: Voices at Dawn (2015), narrating a revolt of farmers in the 18th century. Yamasaki’s latest narrative, for that matter, delves into the societal dynamics of Maniwa, a rural town with an increasingly multicultural population.
Yun Chang-su (Kang Yoon-Soo), who was forced to give up his equestrian dream prematurely, now works at a quarry in Maniwa, a rural town in western Japan. He currently lives together with Minami (Misa Wada) and her daughter, Uzuki (-).
Ever since her mother died, the relationship between Yamabuki Hayakawa (Kirara Inori) and her father (Yohta Kawase), a local police officer, has been tensive. One day, Yamabuki joins the local silent protests against war, nuclear weapons, andthe increase of the consumption tax. Much to the dismay of her father, she continues her protests after he explicitly forbid her.
Yamabuki is a socially-engaged and dramatic exploration of the truth that whatever we do or say, it sorts effects on the other subject and impacts him/her beyond our conscious intentions (Narra-note 1). The subject, by being grasped within the societal network of relations, cannot but influence the other and become influenced by the other’s speech and acts. In this respect, Yamabuki traces how such interdependence can radically impact a subject – in this case, Chang-Su, by ruining the dreamed future he increasingly felt was attainable. Yet, while such interdependence often negatively impacts the subject, the interconnection between subjects by merely being present, by vocalizing signifiers, and by performing acts holds the possibility to positively change the other’s situation and influence his subjective state for the better.
The socially-engaged nature of the narrative is evident by its depiction of the possibility of intercultural relationships, the interactional dynamic of a highly intercultural work-environment, and Chang-su’s conflictual position (Narra-note 2). The possibility of intercultural romance is explored via Chang-Su’s relation with Minami. The intercultural dynamic at the workplace is marked by subtle frictions between Japanese subjects and South-Asian subjects (e.g. Vietnamese, Korean, Chinese, …) that arise due to cultural differences and by a different socio-economic structure. The rise of such multicultural environment also causes the blossoming of an anti-immigrant sentiment – people who oppose rights for immigrants and wants these people to get out of ‘their’ beautiful Japan.
Chang-su’s conflictual position is underlined when the spectator learns that he is working in Japan to pay off his family’s debt. The reality of this debt powerfully echoes the fact that many foreign workers in Japan are not merely searching to establish a better life or to re-establish a life worth living, but also to support their distressed family. For Chang-su, the prospect of becoming a full-time worker at the quarry allows him to resolve his inner-conflict, allows him to imagine the fulfilment of his so-called ‘filial duty’ and realize his dream of taking up horse-back riding again.
Yamabuki is, in a certain sense, fighting a cold war with her father with silence as her prime weapon. Silence functions as a weapon, because it speaks and cannot stop speaking. Yamabuki’s silence does not only signal that something is left unresolved within her relationship with her father, but tries to confront him with his own fatherly failure and, in a sense, culpability (Narra-note 3). Her continued silence is an attempt to cause the fatherly signifier – her father’s speech.
Yamabuki’s failure to cause the fatherly signifier and a verbal confrontation underpins, at least partially, her decision to join the silent protests on the street. Her societal protest against the government is, in this sense, merely a transformed protest against the fatherly instance that failed her (Narra-note 4 (spoiler)). Yet, the fatherly signifier she eventually receives by protesting – a speech that erases her subjective position by forbidding her to join these protests – is sadly not the speech she so desired. Can a continued public rebellion against the current societal dynamic and the fatherly ‘no’ eventually bring forth the fatherly signifier she’s searching for?
What stands out in Yamasaki’s composition is its naturalistic feel and its pleasant flow. The naturalistic feel is created by the subtle shakiness and the noise that marks the imagery as well as the natural lighting-design, while the flow of the narrative is function of Yamazaki’s observatory compositional style (Cine-note 1).
The touch of naturalism is, furthermore, instrumental in heightening the beauty of Yamasaki’s environmental imagery (e.g. the quarry) and the imagery depicting everyday-life, underlining the significance of that what speaks without words (e.g. facial expressions, … ), and infusing an engaging realism into the interactions – familial or professional – that structure the narrative as whole.
Juichiro Yamasaki’s Yamabuki is a beautiful socially-engaged narrative that explores the very fact that, by being grasped within the societal network of relations, one cannot but influence the other and become influenced by the other’s speech and acts. Moreover, Yamasaki’s narrative function as a question, asking the spectator what kind of signifier he wants to give to the Other, an inviting signifier vying for understanding or a violent one drenched in a refusal to not understand.
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Narra-note 1: Yamasaki also underlines that the interdependence that marks the social structure is also structured or poisoned by a kind of materialistic logic – an obsession with (more) money.
Narra-note 2: Another thing that weights on Chang-Su’s mind is whether or not he truly can be considered a father by a non-biological child.
Narra-note 3: What kind of failure is Yamabuki trying to punish her father for? While it is never made explicit, the beginning of the narrative subtle implies that his failure has something to do with the untimely death of his wife, the mother of Yamabuki.
Narra-note 4: Later in the narrative, it becomes clear that Yamabuki’s active participation in these silent protest also echoes the subjective dynamic of her mother. By staging her identification with her mother she does not only respond to the loss of her mother but also questions the desire of her mother and her father’s lack.
The question that underpins all facets of her protest is, in truth, nothing but the following: who do you protect?
Cine-note 1: Spectators will notice that the subtle shakiness marks many dynamic shots and those static shots that, for certain reasons, cannot attain a truly fixed state. While the latter implies that the shakiness in this narrative is not always by design, such residual shakiness does not fail to positively impact the feel of Yamasaki’s narrative.