Films are, inherently, subjective products, even more so if the director is solely responsible for the script and the way the script becomes visualized. Shuichi Kawanobe, who presents with Our House Party his first feature film, delivers such subjective product, by channeling his own experiences to bring a realistic story of gay life within Japanese society.
Tomoya Sasaki (Takashi Hashizume), a 21-year-old university student in Tokyo, has been struggling with his sexual orientation, hiding his homosexuality from all those who are close to him, like Kohei (-) and Aiko (-). A chance encounter with Shoichi (Ryosuke Inoura), a gay bar owner in Shinjuku 2-chome, gets him invited to a house party hosted by Akito (Keiichi Kagayama) and his unfaithful partner Yasushi (Ryo Matsumoto). Naoki (Sho Kubota), a gay club owner, and his friend Masashi (Keigo Unohara) are also invited.
Our House Party is a narrative about tension, tension between the imaginary that marks relations and the subjective conflict that hides beneath it but also between the Japanese societal Other and those who, within this Other, identify as homosexual. In fact, Kawanobe’s narrative beautifully shows how the imaginary, the dimension of the image, is utilized to evoke a fantasy of relational peace – a pleasurable peace between agreeable others – that demands the struggle of the subject and his Otherness to remain unvocalized.
The first tension is touched upon by Masashi’s character. Masashi, as subject, is tormented by a frustrated hysterical desire – a string of romantic failures that casts doubt on his worth as subject, and the impossible fantasy of a perfect romance (Narra-note 1). While the lingering frustration causes him, at times, to violently and hysterically disturb the imaginary, his search to attain his fantasy underpins his demand that the fiction of relational happiness of other is not splintered.
The true aim of Masashi’s need for the other’s love is, as he himself touchingly reveals, to be loved by the other, to be the other’s beloved. Whenever he engages in a romantic relationship, an engagement poisoned by his romantic fantasy, the gift of his love function as a continuous demand to the other to deliver tangible proof that he is/remains the other’s beloved. Masashi’s make-up can, in this sense, be understood as a form of imaginary defence. It is not only a way to make himself pretty for the other – a way to attract the male other, but also a vain attempt to protect his subjective worth from the other’s rejection and hide himself within the pleasure of social interactions.
The second tension is, first, evoked via the ‘closeted’ character of Tomoya. Tomoya’s inability to openly embrace his homosexual feelings is simply caused by a lingering fear to be rejected by the Other, to have his subjectivity radically dismissed by this Other. He does not want to risk destroying the relationships that he has by revealing his subjectivity and his homosexual desire. For the same reason – i.e. the fear of the radical refusal by the Other, Akito lives a kind of double life. He plays the bachelor at his work – a performance for his colleagues and the societal Other, he is, within his apparent, deeply involved with Yasushi.
Tomoya’s encounter with Shoichi changes a lot. Why? Because this chance encounter introduces him to a relational fabric that invites him to accept who he is and to give free expression, via his shape of his ego, to his subjectivity. Within the ‘homosexual’ Other, he does not need to fear the rejection of his subjectivity.
The composition of Our House Party is, despite the use of some dynamism, quite static. Conversations are generally framed with little to no cinematographical movement. In other cases, the static composition is given some dynamism by shaky framing. Yet, Kawanobe’s composition is far from boring. By using the cut thoughtfully and by playing with close-up moments, he elegantly highlights non-verbal expressions (or the lack thereof) to breathe life into the many conversational interactions the structure his narrative and the subjectivities that drive these interactions.
Given the simple nature of the composition, it is evident that the emotions that thrive in Kawanobe’s narrative are not artificially created. The genuine nature of the emotions within Our House Party is simply function of the natural performances of the cast. The compositional style as well as the flow of scenes grants the cast the time and space to vitalize their subjective dynamics that mark their characters and give the signifiers and acts of their characters their touching genuineness. The subtle shakiness that, at times of subjective or relational conflict, comes to mark the frame beautifully reverberates the genuine emotionality of the performances.
With Our House Party, Kawanobe delivers a very touching and emotional story that highlights the fact that, within Japanese society, the homosexual subject does not only need to deal with the ‘normal’ tension between the superficial pleasure or peace of social interactions and the unresolved and unvocalized conflicts of the subject, but also needs to shoulder the pressure of a Japanese Other that might not recognize his Otherness.
Narra-note 1: Spectators who do not understand that Masashi’s signifiers and acts are underpinned by a hysterical dynamic might be put off by his seemingly random theatrical breakdowns.