Ring Wandering (2022) review

Introduction

Masakazu Kaneko first impressed international audiences with The Albino’s Trees (2016), a narrative that elegantly utilizes the tension between society and nature to deliver a heartfelt demand for more thoughtfulness towards others in society. For his third feature film narrative, Kaneko re-utilizes this tension to explore the increasing relational emptiness that marks the contemporary subject.

Review

Despite his efforts, Sosuke (Show Kasamatsu), an aspiring manga artist, struggles to draw the now extinct Japanese wolf central to his manga well and to give his story of a battle between the wolf and a hunter a satisfying sense of realism. 

One day,at the construction site where Sosuke works to make a living, he happens to finda part of an animal skull that could be of a Japanese wolf. Unable to verify whether the skull truly belonged to a wolf, he sneaks into the construction site at night to find more bones. His search  for bones is abruptly put to an end when a peculiar woman called Midori (Junko Abe) wanders onto the site in search for her dog. In his attempt to run away, he accidently bumps into her and injures her. Carrying her on his back in search for her dog, he unknowingly wanders into Tokyo’s past.

Ring Wandering (2022) by Masakazu Kaneko

Kaneko’s Ring Wandering is, in its essence, a pacifistic narrative that does not only explore the importance of not-forgetting the past – a past riddled with devastating violence – but also how important inter-subjective connections are for the contemporary subject. With a refined elegance, Kaneko explores how, in contemporary society, subjects easily forget the value of life and well as the value of inter-subjective connections. In this sense, the expression of violence is an expression of not feeling integrated into the social fabric – a relational fabric increasingly loosened by the ever-puffing capitalistic machinery. Moreover, the push to (depicting) violence is also partially dictated by this capitalistic system demanding enjoyment.   

Ring Wandering explores these themes via two narrative contrasts, a contrast between the present and his imagined past and contrast between the present and the ‘real’ past. Via the first contrast, Kaneko does not only explore Sosuke’s struggle to depict the Japanese wolf, but also reveals that his main character Ginzo represents his contemporary position within society.   

Ring Wandering (2022) by Masakazu Kaneko

While the villagers remain passive, either because they do not believe that the wolf is the perpetrator or because they respect the sacred nature of this wolf, Ginzo is obsessed with killing the wolf that troubles the village and kills the livestock the village depends on. Ginzo’s obsession with this wolf complicates any kind of inter-subjective connection with the other and radically short-circuits his functioning as father. This subjective impact is also illustrated by the way he tries to inscribe his daughter’s death into his subjective logic. He radically supresses his grief and his slumbering guilt by blaming her for being stupid and not heed his warning. Ginzo’s warning was, in this sense, not truly driven by his fatherly duty but by his obsession to obliterate the wolf that haunts his subject.

So how does Ginzo represents Sosuke’s subjective solitary position? Ginzo’s obsessional struggle with the wolf channels Sosuke’s struggle to become Mangaka, the relation between Ginzo and the wolf stages his problematic position within the societal Other, and his idealisation of Ginzo’s solitary existence and the absence of warm emotions in his story reveals the lack of meaningful inter-subjective bonds in his own life. Sosuke’s reliance on conflict and violence in his manga can, in this sense, be read as an expression of his own frustration with his current life and his frustrated wish to resolve that what stands in his way of becoming a mangaka. Yet, the obstacle that hinders Sosuke might not simply be his inability to draw this absent wolf, but also his failure to solve the emotional emptiness that marks his own life.

Ring Wandering (2022) by Masakazu Kaneko

The second tension, between the present and the ‘real’ past’, is introduced when Sosuke wanders off into the past with Midori. Yet, despite being confronted with visual signs signalling a difference in era (e.g. different clothing style, the simple traditional interior of Kawachi photography studio, the lack of modern inventions, the presence of old equipment, and the somewhat different food-culture) he remains oblivious to the fact that this is not the Tokyo that he knows and lives in. He nevertheless experiences something radically different in this past – something he dearly lacks in the present: a fleeting inter-subjective connection, a moment of relational joy. Can Sosuke eventually grasp the truth of his timeslip? If so, can this otherworldly experience impact his subject, help him overcome his subjective deadlock, and give his manga its definite angle?

The composition of Ring Wandering stands out due to its peaceful pace and its beautiful shots of nature. The pace, dictated by a unhurried concatenation of static and dynamic shots, plays an instrumental role in keeping the spectator engaged in Kaneko’s emotionally subdued narrative. The shots of nature succeed in evoking the serene beauty of nature because of an effective interplay between three elements: the shot-composition, the colour-schemes, and the sound-design. While the shot-compositions and the colour-schemes introduces the spectator to elegant and serene contrasts of trees, long grasses, stones, snow, and water, the great sound-design allows us to feel the peacefulness of these depicted sceneries.

Ring Wandering (2022) by Masakazu Kaneko

The colour-design is, furthermore, instrumental in heightening the visual pleasure of non-natural environments (e.g. Sosuke’s room) and scenery where humanity and nature clash (e.g. the construction site).

Ring Wandering is another amazing narrative by Masakazu Kaneko. Kaneko does not only deliver a visual celebration of the peaceful beauty of nature but also succeeds in creating a elegant narrative that unfolds its highly relevant message via the interaction of various contrasts – i.e. societal conflict clashing with peaceful natural landscapes, the impact of the thirst of war on the balance of nature, and contemporary subjective emptiness versus the joy of inter-subjective connection. With Ring Wandering, Kaneko gracefully invites the spectator to question whether he has not forgotten the subjective importance of forging inter-subjective bonds.   

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