Daigo Matsui is, in our view, a director that remains highly underrated. He did not only earn the first place at our Top 10 Japanese movies of 2018 with his incredible one-take Ice Cream and the Sound of Raindrops (2018) but succeeded to claim the first place in 2021 as well with Remain in Twilight (2021), a powerful meditation on the difficulty to accept loss. Does Just Remembering have a chance to earn this year’s first place?
Yo Nahara (Sairi Itoh) works as a taxi driver. Teruo Saeki (Sosuke Ikematsu) was once a dancer but an accident forced him to give up his dream. Since then, he works as a lighting staff member at a local theatre. Jun (Masatoshi Nagase) waits in the park for his wife, much to the irritation of the community helpers cleaning up the park.
Just Remembering is a powerful and impactful exploration of unresolved emotional pain, the problematic dimension of speech and imaginary pleasure, and the need to have some sort of intersubjective framework to built one’s romances on. Much of the narrative’s emotional power derives from the fact that the story is largely told in reverse – from corona-time to pre-corona-times, from being single to a life with romance to the confession and the first encounter.
The visual repetition that is employed to structure the narrative and introduce the jumps in times is also important to explore the similarities and the differences within Teruo’s and Yo’s life. Just Remembering functions, in a certain sense, as a character-study of how the subjective state of an individual complicates his rhythm, how his unresolved turmoil finds its expression in his surroundings, and the complicated interplay between subjective changes and relational transformations (Psycho-note 1). Or, to put it in more positive terms, Matsui highlight how important imaginary relational happiness is for the stability of the subject and his ego and how our relational past marks our present – for better or worse.
Yet, with his narrative, Matsui reveals not only the importance of imaginary relational happiness (e.g. the playful interactions, the joking-around, surges of physical intimacy, … etc.) but also its inherent danger. A relationship that is solely structured by surges of imaginary relational pleasure – the pleasure of being in love – lacks the intersubjective frame that binds two subjects as Other for each other together. Imaginary pleasure helps the individual hide his subject behind his ‘romantic’ ego and erases the radical differences between subjects (e.g. the concatenation of moments of romantic pleasure help Yo to glance over Teruo’s need to install distance between his subject and the Other). Yet, when these moments dry up, the relationship transforms into a concatenation of confrontations with the other’s Otherness, an emptiness that, due to the lack of an intersubjective frame, cannot be endured or accepted.
The importance as well as the danger of relational pleasure for the subject depends, as Matsui expertly shows, on how he utilizes the signifier within interactions. With a refined subtility, the director shows how we, as subjects, utilize the dimension of imaginary chitter-chatter to gain some empty pleasure (e.g. a laugh or two) and hide or supress our lingering subjective discontent. The use of imaginary speech is, in many cases, nothing more than an attempt to deceive the other and oneself – it is, in other words, a vain attempt to outrun one’s own dissatisfaction. Yet, the ineffectiveness of such chitter-chatter to supress one’s struggle underpins, as Matsui indicates, the subject’s turn to solitary drinking – a surge of alcoholic pleasure to temporarily silence one’s struggle with life.
What caused Teruo and Yo’s break-up is function of such a clash between the symbolic and the imaginary. In more concrete terms, their relational dissatisfaction is caused by the collision between Yo’s continued demands for inter-subjectivity (i.e. inviting Teruo to share his subjective troubles with her) and Teruo’s distancing responses that highlight his refusal to trouble her with his subjective turmoil. Yo’s push to bring Teruo’s subjectivity into his speech and Teruo’s attempt to keep his struggle unvocalized creates a concatenation of failed encounters within their relationship – neither subject truly understands the aim of the Other’s speech (Narra-note 1, Narra-note 2).
What Just Remembering also highlights, in a quite ironical way, is that the act of ‘just’ remembering is caused by a subjective state marked by lack (i.e. a state of discomfort) and the pulsation of one’s own unfulfilled desire. What is remembered is not simply the romantic failure either, but the very loss of the precious moments of imaginary happiness. The emotionality that accompanies these remembrances is, in this respect, born from the confrontation with the truth of one’s own desire and the subsequent frustration of realizing one’s loss – i.e. a fantasy of romantic happiness and relational pleasure born from one’s current subjective emptiness.
The composition of Just Remembering stands out due to its peaceful rhythm. This rhythm is not only function of Matsui’s balanced mix of fixed and dynamic moments, but also due to his reliance on static shots to frame speech-interactions and explore the mundane moments (e.g. watering the plants, feeding the cat, doing some morning gymnastics, … etc.) that mark the lives of Teruo and Yo. The mundane flavour of our characters’ lives is further emphasized by Matsui’s effective use of visual repetition.
While these fragments of banal everydayness might seem irrelevant at first, they are extremely important to the narrative. Beyond their function in dictating the rhythm of Just Remembering, these moments also give time and space to Sosuke Ikematsu and Sairi Itoh to breathe life into their characters and to the spectator to visually absorb the surroundings marked by our characters.
The visual rhythm of the narrative, full of mundanity and repetitions, is, furthermore, instrumental in evoking the lingering atmosphere that marks many of the narrative spaces. The atmosphere of Just Remembering echoes, quite elegantly, the relational emptiness that marks our contemporary social interactions and the subjective isolation certain subjects finds themselves in. We talk to each other, but we fail to speak with each other. In the case, we succeed to speak to an other, the other is, in many cases, not the Other we truly want to address. The covid-related restrictions are, as the narrative beautifully unearths, not the cause of this relational emptiness, but merely non-causal factors that complicate social-imaginary coping-mechanisms (e.g. cultural events, drinking with friends, …etc.) and lays bare the depressing relational truth caused by the dynamics within our contemporary society (e.g the hollowing out of speech-interactions by the rise of smartphones, the seduction of sedating oneself with alcohol and eating, … etc.).
The acting-performances of Sosuke Ikematsu and Sairi Itoh play an instrumental part in turning Just Remembering into a unforgettable experience. The naturalism of their performances and the emotional layers they infuse into their characters make them, as subjects mark by lack, believable and engaging and their on-screen chemistry ensures that the moments of relational tension are painful and the imaginary relational happiness are bitter-sweet and touching.
With Just Remembering, Daigo Matsui delivers another amazing narrative. The pitch-perfect performances of Sosuke Ikematsu and Sairi Itoh breathe life into the splendid narrative structure and turn Matsui’s exploration of speech, inter-subjective misrecognition, subjective emptiness, and the dynamic of remembering into an experience that will stir the spectator’s unconscious and affect his heart.
Psycho-note 1: In our opinion, we should view the things that stay the same within Teruo’s life as acts to protect his ego and keep it structured and the differences as signals that show him his own unresolved subjective turmoil.
Narra-note 1: The failure of Teruo to share his subjective struggle puts, in our view, Teruo’s love radically into question. Her demand to encounter something of his subject is essentially a demand for (as sign that proves) his love. That Yo is searching for prove of Teruo’s love is powerfully illustrated when she, after dropping him off, laments that he does not run after her taxi
Teruo fails to hear Yo’s demand for love because he is too preoccupied with avoiding the confrontation with the truth that his dance career is over. In this sense, his attempt to keep his inner struggle out of his speech with Yo is merely an vein attempt to postpone the inevitable moments he needs to accept the end of his dance career.
Narra-note 2: Yet, Matsui also highlights the very need for the subject to address the Other with his discomfort. In the case of Yo, some of her clients utilize the time within the taxi to reveal a sliver of their subjective discomfort. A young woman tells her about her impromptu suicide attempt, a young artist worries that his agency will go under now that it has to cancel a live concert due to the covid-restrictions, … etc.
Yet, for Yo, these moments confront her with what has not yet been fully worked through – her relational past with Teruo.