With limited budget, less than 700 dollars, and a time-schedule of merely three days, Riki Ohkanda set out to create her first feature film. While restraints can often limit the vision of the director, it also challenges the director to be creative to bring their vision alive. How did Ohkanda deal with these restraints? Did the financial and the time limit hurt the overall delivery of her narrative?
While Ryo Kunogawa (Tensho Shibuya) was once a well-known stage actor who performed in iconic stage plays like Hamlet, he has not been able to get any new roles for a while. The problem, according to his manager, is not only that he acts too well during auditions for supporting roles, but also that his attitude is somewhat problematic. He should take an example to Koichi (-), a less able actor who does a lot of effort to promote himself.
One day, he is called by Shintaro Natsume (Osamu Adachi) and accept his invitation to meet. Shintaro explains that he did not have any reason to meet him, but did solely to renew ties with him. He calls this experimental act ‘Random Call’. With nothing to lose, Kunogawa tries it out himself.
Random Call explores the fact that, nowadays, selfish motives generally underpin human interactions. We only want to meet another subject is he can function as an object for us, if we can make use of him for our own unvocalized motives. We do not desire to encounter the other’s subjectivity within our interactions, but to exploit imaginary dynamics to please or ease our own ego.
The ‘invention’ of the random call is an attempt to create a space for subjects to meet each other beyond imaginary manipulation – be it manipulating oneself or exploiting the other. Yet, as becomes evident from Kunogawa’s subsequent random encounters, to meet the other within falling prey to problematic imaginary dynamics is easier said than done. In some cases, the subject feels forced to deceive the other – to hide one’s subjective struggle behind a vocalized fantasy of one’s ideal situation – or the other expertly exploits this random encounter for his own benefit.
Yet, in these busy times, merely trying to meet someone without any hidden intentions can be impactful. These encounters, which often thrive on sharing empty speech, are not without effect on both subjects. Such encounters might allow both parties to dispense the need to deceive the other with one’s wish-fulfilling fantasy and meet each other at the level of their subjective injury.
So, how can these random encounters impact Kunogawa? To be able to answer this question we need to uncover what Kunogawa’s problem is. His problem is not only that he does not any effort to be liked by the ‘Theatrical’ Other, but that he, frustrated with his subsequent failures and the lack of recognition, has come to avoid the societal Other. The tension between him and the Other is beautifully visualized by his confrontation with his mother. Does his mother, by telling him to quit acting and find a real job, not reveal the ‘message’ that resides in the theatrical Other, a message of doubt that flares up within him with every failure?
The avoidance of the Other is, in other words, nothing more than an attempt to safeguard his actor-ego and keep it whole and intact. In this sense, the random encounters might allow Kunogawa to loosen his fixation with his actor-ego and allow his future to take different paths.
Via the character of Mie (Ako), the spectator is introduced to the subjective danger of letting one’s complete comportment be dictated by a desire to be loved. By falling prey to such desire, be dedicated one’s whole comportment to the other, one grants this other the power to slash deep subjective scars. In such relational constellation, there is no place for inter-subjectivity, there is no way for both parties to meet each other at the level of their subject.
The composition of Random Call stands out due to its fluidity. By thoughtfully balancing slow fluid dynamism and static moments, Ohkanda did not only give her composition a pleasant flow, but an energy that invites the spectator to keep on watching (Cine-note 1).
The visual flow is enhanced by the musical decorations. Yet, that is not the only role for the musical accompaniment. These decorations also play an important role in giving certain moments within the narrative their subtle emotional resonance – elegantly underlining Kunogawa’s unvocalized subjective injury or Mie’s unresolved injury – or to breathe a certain mood, in most cases light-hearted, into certain sequences.
Another element that heighten the pleasure of Random Call is the measured theatricality that, in some instances, marks the performances, be it when framing auditions or highlighting how Kunogawa, by re-enacting some of his lines from past performances, is fixated on his former glory and how he has alienated himself from the Other.
Random Call proves that one does not need a big budget to deliver a narrative that touches the spectator. Ohkanda’s composition might be rough around the edges, the performances of her cast breathe life into the highly relevant message she aims to communicate to the audience. Yes, we should make more time, our highly digitalized society drunk on the pleasure of the screen and structured imaginary defences, to meet the other as Other, to make time for the possibility of a subjective encounter.
Cine-note 1: Given the low budget nature of the narrative, it is not surprising that Random Call is plagued by some technical impurities, like shifts in image sharpness and small continuity errors. Yet, these problems fail to really complicate the spectator’s enjoyment.