Kasho Iizuka did not fail to impress national and international audiences with his first-feature film, Our Future (2011), a narrative fictionalizing his own experience as a transgender man. Can his fourth feature film, Angry Son (2022), screening at this year’s OAFF, touch the spectator once more?
Jun (Kazuki Horike), A ‘Jappino’ lives together with his mother Reina (GOW), a Filipino bar girl. As she supports her extended family in the Philippines, she is often tight on money and tries to make ends meet by cutting off the electricity of the apartment, much to Jun’s frustration. Jun’s relationship with Yusuke (Masafumi Shinohara) is not going well. Yusuke laments his indecisiveness concerning his own future – i.e. a lack of goals and dreams – and his inability to truly commit in their relationship.
One night, he finds a picture album in his mother drawer with pictures if the father he only knows through his child-support payments. Not that much later, he learns that his mother will remarry with Nobuhiro Morishita (-).
Angry Son is a coming-of-age narrative that also functions as an elegant social commentary on yet-to-be resolved frictions within Japanese society. While Iizuka’s film never becomes a pure piece of social critique, it does touches upon pressing social frictions that need more political attention.
The first social friction concerns the simmering homophobia that lingers in Japanese society and Japanese patriarchal politics. This is not only touched upon by Jun’s recollections of being bullied in school, but also by underlining that, despite certain areas in Japan giving legal recognition to same-sex relationships, there is still a need for inventive work-arounds to satisfy certain desires of same-sex couples. Another friction is the xenophobic friction. Iizuka confronts the spectator with painful xenophobic moments that illustrates that the ‘hating’ subject enjoys via his vile prejudices against a Otherly-cultured subject and that he, in his enjoyment, radically refuses encountering the subjectivity of this ‘vile’ Other.
And that is not all. Iizuka also explores other social phenomena, like sham-marriages to ensure a visa, the popularity of Filipino hostess bars – a masturbatory practice with seductive signifiers to ease the castrated male subject, the effect of a sputtering economy on the hospitality sector – i.e. businesses close down or the less popular women are fired, and the reality of asexuality. Iizuka elegantly sketches out the Japanese societal environment that does not only heightens the believability of the characters and their trajectories, but also proves that truth is always revealed in a fictional structure.
It is in this complex societal environment that Jun struggles with his subjectivity. This struggle is highlighted by his anger outbursts and his inextinguishable frustration. What is the dynamic of his anger? What is the source of his frustration? To answer both questions we need to explore what renders Jun unable to decide how to write his personal and relational future.
The subjective deadlock is, for a great part, caused by Jun’s problematic relation with Filipino culture. That this relation is problematic is first alluded to by his unwillingness to submit his beloved Yusuke to Filipino cultural practices (e.g. the need to financially support the extended family at home). The anger towards his mother is thus nothing other a violent attack on the Filipino culture she represents. Or, in other words, he attacks in the mother that very thing that he is struggling with: the Filipino culture that marks his subject. His wish to break free from his mother is, in this sense, a wish born from a misrecognition, because the true object of his anger is not his mother as such.
Another element that enflames his anger is the sudden presence of Morishita, because it endangers the son and mother dynamic. These bursts of anger reveal that Jun’s interactions with his mother are often fatherly and spousal-like – i.e. helping her out filling official document,… etc. These bursts of anger, in fact, illustrate Jun’s inability to separate from his mother. These moments feed his boiling frustration but also allow Jun to indirectly express and affirm his love for his mother (Narra-note 1).
Reina is, furthermore, a mother that has failed in her motherly function – the relation between son and mother is structured by a series of failed encounters and has problematized Jun’s relation with Filipino culture. Her failure lies that the motherly image she, at given times, adorns herself with – ‘I’m your mother, You’re still a child. You do as I tell you.’, renders her blind and deaf for the subjective struggle that marks her son (Narra-note 2). They way she wears her motherhood makes it impossible for Jun to reveal some of his subjectivity to her. His burst of angers, in this sense, also function as attempts to break the motherly wall and invite her to listen to him and his subjective struggle. Can Jun find a way to create an intersubjective encounter between him and his mother? And can such encounter allows him to take decisions for his future, accept his mother for who she is as subject, and come to terms with the Filipino culture that runs through his veins and marks his subjectivity?
The composition of Angry Son stands out due to its naturalism. This naturalism, born from the shakiness that marks the framing of the narrative, invites the spectator to assume that, through this fictional story, a certain reality is explored. This cinematographically evoked naturalism, moreover, is instrumental in strengthening the believability of the acting performances – especially those of Kazuki Horiki and GOW. The lingering shakiness function, in a sense, as a frame that gives the performances their sense of realism, gives the rich palette of emotions its genuine character, and enables the many emotional moments touch the spectator.
Angry Son is an incredibly rich and deep narrative that not only delivers a satisfying coming-of-age story but also an elegantly delivered social commentary on some of the frictions marking Japanese society. With his narrative, Iizuka touchingly reveals that anger and frustration is born from the inability to reveal one’s subjectivity or make the other hear one’s subjective suffering. Highly Recommended.
Narra-note 1: His frustration is thus not only caused by the confrontation with the Filipino culture his mother represents but also due to her inability to let her son be simply her son. Yet, some of his anger and frustration is caused by the fact that his position within the familial dynamic faces annihilation, effacing his ability to indirectly reveal his deep love for his mother.
Narra-note 2: It is the failure of his mother that compels Jun to search for his father. Yet, what does he aim to find? Simply said, a father that functions, a father that might hear his subjective woes and enable him to find a solution to his subjective conflict.