With her first feature film Orphans’ Blues (2018), Riho Kudo did not only impress audiences but also the judges at a variety of film festivals. She won the Grand Prize at the PIA Film festival, the Cinefilm Prize at the Yokohama Independent Film Festival, as well as the Nara-Wave Best Picture and the Audience Award at Nara International Film Festival. Now, she finally presents her second-feature film, a PFF Scholarship film called Let Me Hear It Barefoot.
One day at the local swimming pool, Naomi (Sion Sasaki), a university dropoutwho currently works for his father’s trash collecting company, is approached by Maki (Shuri Suwa), one of the employees. Later that day, on his way home, Naomi happens to see him with Midori (Jun Fubuki), a blind woman who dreamily recounts her many foreign exploits, at a defunct bus stop. He offers them a ride home.
Not that much later, Maki and Naomi find Midori collapsed near the bus stop. She is hospitalized. At the hospital bed, she confesses to Maki that she never left the country and merely re-told stories she heard from somebody else. She offers him her bankbook, which has a much lower balance than she remembers, and asks him to explore the world for her. Maki sees no other option than to fake his world-trip by sending tapes to her about his adventures. Soon, Naomi offers his help.
Let Me Hear It Barefoot is a gentle and sensitive narrative that explores the difficulty of utilizing the signifier to give one’s desire a symbolic and relational weight as well as the difficulty to etch a singular path for oneself in life.
The first difficulty is explored by Naomi’s reluctance to speak and his silences. What he does not dare to say with signifiers either speaks through his acts or is revealed on his face by subtle expressions. What speaks beyond words is nothing other than his desire for Maki. The nature of his desire is, as soon becomes apparent, closely intertwined by a need for his intimacy.
Why can Naomi not put his romantic desire into signifiers? In our view, this is closely linked to his obsession of collecting all sorts of things, an obsession driven by a wish to preserve the materiality of things (e.g. DVD’s, VHS tapes, vinyl records, …etc.) even after they have disappeared from the outside world and by a pleasure of materially owning things (Narra-note 1).
His inability to vocalize his desire and his difficulty to touch the other is caused by his fixation on materiality. In contrast to physical media, the bodily materiality of a human subject is ephemeral and cannot truly be preserved. The libido that drives us will, eventually, dissipated from our bodies. Furthermore, another subject cannot never be truly owned. The Otherness of the other continuously complicates our sense of owning a subject.
Even though Naomi wants to touch the body of the other with his hands, he avoids it because by a mere gentle touch, his desire for romance will become contaminated by his impossible ‘objectal’ fantasy. It is, as a matter of fact, by intimately touching the flesh of the other subject that he radically opens himself up for the possibility of losing this beloved other/thing. And it is this inability to deal with this fear inhibits him and renders him unable to invite the other romantically with his hands.
The boyish and playful violence both eventually engage in – a violence instigated by Naomi’s rough physical inviting act – is an impulsive ‘subjective solution’ that short-circuits the need to confess his romantic desire with signifiers and renders his ‘objectal’ fantasy unable to fully seize his want to be physically near him. As a matter of fact, this playful ‘phallic’ violence also allows Maki to circumvent his own problem with intimate physicality – People are within my reach but I could never touch them – and the expression of his lingering desire. Yet, the source of Maki’s fear of touching the other and his reluctance to express his desire with signifiers remains opaque.
Yet, while Naomi and Maki succeed to communicate something of their desire for each other via their physical violence and a certain intimacy creep into their violent bouts, it is evident that Naomi’s violent approaches do not only express his romantic desire. His approaches also give expression to Naomi’s lingering urge to damage his beloved object – an urge function of his objectal fantasy, and his unresolved frustration of not being able to fully accept his desire and inaugurate their relationship with the signifier (Psycho-note 1, Narra-note 2 (spoiler)).
Yet, can, once their desire is heard and accepted by the other, a different kind of intimacy can blossom between them? Can their violent play lead to moments of intersubjective speech? And what will the impact be of Naomi’s lingering fear of losing the materiality of his beloved ‘object’ on his relational dynamic with Maki?
The difficulty of finding one’s own way in life is also explored via Naomi. Let Me Hear It Barefoot beautifully explores that the subject that wants to come-into-being is tasked to make decisions that might or might not be accepted by the ‘familial’ Other. While the parental other, i.e. Naomi’s father (Masahiro Komoto), demands responsibility in charting out the life of one’s child, the subject ultimately needs to fully assume this responsibility. It is, as Kudo shows, only by disallowing the parental other to hinder one’s singular search of subjectivity and by forcing him to grant the subject the space to write his own trajectory and deal with the failures that might arise from his own decisions that a subject can embark on the difficult adventure to come-into-being (Psycho-note 2).
The composition of Let Me Hear It Barefoot offers a balanced mix between fixed, measured dynamic shots, and, in some cases, shaky framing. What’s noteworthy about Kudo’s composition is the elegant manner by which Kudo visually underlines the importance of what remains unsaid.
It is this thoughtful emphasis that enables the interactions between the characters to attain a naturalistic flow. This engaging naturalistic flow is, for example, illustrated by the silences caused by certain signifiers that resonate with the subject-addressee. Such relational naturalism is, furthermore, highlighted by Kudo’s thoughtful reliance on the speaking nature of facial and bodily expressions. By focusing on this kind of expressions, she does not only beautifully corroborate the fact that faces never stop speaking, but also that what speaks on the faces or through the body of the subject is function of the relational dynamics one finds oneself in and how such dynamic impacts one’s lingering desires and fantasies.
Kudo also ensured that Let Me Hear It Barefoot is a visually pleasant narrative to look at. The narrative’s visual pleasure is caused by the softness that marks its imagery. Kudo attains this visual softness by extensively playing with depth of field and painting her visuals with a richly nuanced and naturalistic colour-palette.
Let Me Hear It Barefoot is a great narrative that elegantly and gently exploits non-verbal communication to deliver a touching tale of subjective struggle. Yet, Kudo’s narrative does not succeed due to merely staging queerness in a gentle way, but because this elegant reliance on that what speaks without signifiers allows her to transcend such classification and offer a vivid exploration of how unconscious fantasies can complicate the pursuit of one’s desire and how the parental Other can complicate the subject’s attempt to embark on the never-ending process of coming-into-being as subject.
(No Trailer available)
Narra-note 1: In this light, the story of Naomiwanting to be his father’s boat as a child is not without significance.This wish elegantly stages the fantasy of what he wants to be for the other or what the other needs to be for him: an object that can touched and preserved.
Psycho-note 1: Naomi’s violence is not only caused by his need to assure its physical presence but also due to his inability to deal with the fear that such objectal fantasy structurally causes.
Psycho-note 2: One way to introduce one’s search to come-into-being to the Other is through conflict, e.g. by explicitly refusing the parental desire with a statement that stages one’s own Otherness and evokes a fragment of one’s subjectivity.
Narra-note 2: While the credits role, some spectatorsmight wonder why Noami is suddenly able to intimately touch the other. In our view, the intimate touch is possible because his touch is not truly charged with his romantic desire – the intimacy does not have a subjective weight.