Short Movie Review: Natsuko (2020) [OAFF 2022]


Filmmakers use the language of film to express themselves. They utilize the grammatical dimension of the composition to explore their subjectivity and present the creative product of this exploration to the spectator to enjoy.

Shuna Iijima, known from her incredible performance in Bad Poetry Tokyo (2017), delivers with her short film such an subjective exploration. Based on her own personal experience, she tries to capture the state of bottled-up burning emotions that are pushing for expression.  


Natsuko (Kaori Takeshita) lives with her husband in the countryside. A few times in a year, her husband goes away to try and meet his daughter from his previous marriage. During the time he is away, Natsuko is forced to to deal with her dark emotions.

Natsuko (2020) by Shuna Iijima

Natsuko is a narrative that explores two psychological elements. First, Iijima powerfully reveals that what cannot be said with signifiers find other ways of speaking. Natsuko beautifully highlights that what cannot escape the mouth in sounds lets itself be heard through the body. For instance, the rough violent way Natsuko uses the cooking utensils echoes the unvocalized frustration that runs through her veins.

Second, Iijima’s narrative also touches upon the need for a subject to invent solutions to deal with this frustration and temporally ease the clouded mind. Yet, as such solution merely functions as a band-aid, the source that infests the subject with uneasiness and frustration is left untouched. In this sense, the solution, furthermore, also constitutes an avoidance of the true subjective conflict.   

Natsuko (2020) by Shuna Iijima

The composition of Natsuko stands out due to its rough dynamism. This dynamism, a stylistic choice, is instrumental in giving the fictional narrative a sense of realism and giving the narrative a frame upon which the acted emotions can reverberate better.    

Another element that heightens the sense of realism that marks the narrative is the darkish but natural colour-design. Yet, the dark washed-out colours are not merely painting a certain reality, but also play an important role in visualizing the subjective state of Natsuko. Is the darkness of the environment not, first and foremost, her subjective darkness, the clouds of a brewing inner storm?

Natsuko (2020) by Shuna Iijima

Yet, these stylistic elements are only able to fulfill their function due to Kaori Takeshita’s pitch-perfect performance. She does not merely bring life to the subjective darkness of her character but fully embodies it.

Natsuko is a splendid debut by Shuna Iijima that proves that she knows how to utilize the various aspects of filmmaking (colour-design, cinematographical style, acting, …etc.) to create a narrative that does not simply presents its themes, but embodies them. Will Iijima continue to create narratives as a director? We surely hope so.  


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