Indie cinema is thriving in Japan. While such blossoming does not necessarily mean that quality cinema is being made, such cinematic playfield does allow directors to explore more difficult themes, themes unfit for mainstream cinema, and experiment with genres, style, and so on. One director who likes to challenge himself is Fumito Fujikawa. His latest film, a ‘dramamentary’ called The Light of The Spring With, was filmed with no script at hand and with a non-professional cast – a real-life family of four.
One day, Masana Hirabuki takes his son Shui Hirabuki to a history museum about the Jomon period. Little does the boy know that his parent decides to break up and that his mother Yuki Hirabuki and his sister Chikasa Hirabuki will be gone upon retuning home.
The Light Of The Spring offers an low-key exploration of familial and subjective functioning marked by two impactful events: the continuing restrictions due to Covid-19 within the metropolitan area of Tokyo and the impact of parental separation on the daily rhythm of the father, the mother, and the children (e.g. at home, at work, parental interactions, daily chores,…etc.).
Within this naturalistic exploration of a sputtering kind of familial functioning, Fujikawa grants a lot of attention the father’s reluctance to explain to Shui what is happening to the familial structure and why his mother is absent. Due to his father’s silence and his vagueness, Shui feels that something has happened and that his mother might not come back. He finds the confirmation of this unvocalized truth in the disappearance of his painting on the wall – the emptiness of the wall echoing the absence of his mother – and the way his father responds to his observation – ‘You can paint it again’.
Yet, the true problem of the fatherly communication is not simply his indirect corroboration of the familial truth – e.g. ‘From now on, dad will cook every day.’, but that he refuses to give his son a decent explanation. His speech-acts leave his son in a dire position: he knows, yet he does not understand. Shui is left without the means to give this changed reality a pacifying explanation. Luckily, he keeps believing that his mother will come back. This hopeful belief defends him against the fantasy that he is the cause of her disappearance and the familial fracture.
Can the father eventually find a way, find certain signifiers, to give his son an explanation for the parental separation that does not only safeguard the son’s bond with his mother, but also avoids the need for the son to assume that he is the cause of the parental separation? And will the mother remain absent forever? Does she agrees with the disintegration of her family?
The composition of The Light Of Spring might be simple and straightforward, but it is via this simplicity that Fujikawa attains a sense of naturalism in his narrative. This naturalism is, more specifically, function of his reluctance to cut and his reliance on static moments. This documentary-like style of filming, which grants time and space to the cast to reveal how they communicate and how they interact with each other in detail, gives the spectators the feeling that this fictional narrative actually documents a genuine familial reality (Cine-note 1).
The beauty of The Light Of The Spring lies in the conversational rhymes it captures – speech riddled with hesitations, pauses, repetitions, element of nonsense, …etc. and the tensions it lays bare within interactions – i.e. the weight of silence, double-layers (Narra-note 1). That Fujikawa succeeds in touching the spectator and delivers, at times, subtle poetic moments is, quite simply, function of the inherent fabric of speech and language.
In truth, with The Light Of The Spring, Fujikawa exploits the line between fiction, reality, and truth. By demanding that the cast lays bare the reality of their interactions within a fictional frame, Fujikawa beautifully reveals that there always some reality and truth to be found in fiction and that truth as well as reality as such is always marked by fiction.
The Light Of The Spring is an experimental ‘dramamentary’ that succeeds to charm and touch the spectator with its rich mundane and genuine interactions and its highly poignant exploration of subjective struggle and how covid-19 impacts and complicates familial functioning.
Cine-note 1: There are, nevertheless, some moments where Shui Hirabuki looks into the camera. This can be experiences in two different ways. Some spectators might feel these moments disturb the unfolding of this mundane family narrative, while other might feel that such moments heighten the documentary feel of the film.
Narra-note 1: Attentive spectator will notice that the father often speaks about the separation in a language that his son seemingly does not understand. The difference in the weight of signifiers between speakers is one kind of naturalistic poetry present in his narrative.