Keisuke Yoshida, known from his splendid boxing drama Blue (2021) is not the first (and surely not the last) director to deal with the problematic role media can play within the lives of those who for one reason or another become its target. Yet, can Yoshida’s narrative explore the destructive impact of media in a compelling way?
Mitsuru Soeda (Arata Furuta), a divorced fisherman, lives together with his daughter Kanon Soeda (Aoi Ito) is a bit of a loner at school and often needs to endure the spats of verbal violence by her fellow-male students.
One day, at Aoyagi supermarket, Naoto Aoyagi (Tori Matsuzaka), the manager, suspects Kanon from trying to steal some nail polish. He takes her to the back of the supermarket, but she runs away. He chases her and tries to catch her. Sadly, Kanon escapes his grasp, runs up the street, and gets hit by a car and overrun by a truck.
Keisuke Yoshida’s Intolerance is a narrative that explores how a tragic accident radically transforms the subjective position of those affected and the relations they have formed. While Yoshida shows how the event ripples the lives of many (e.g. Wakana Imai (Shuri), Shoko Matsumoto (Tomoko Tabata)), Midori Nakayama (Reiko Kataoki), Asako Kusakabe (Shinobu Terajima)), his narrative is firmly structured around the impact of the event on Mitsuru Soeda and Naoto Aoyagi (Narra-note 1).
Intolerance introduces Mitsuru Soeda as a man whose relation to the other/Other is complicated by the frustration that runs through his body and his ‘reflex’ to verbally punish the lack of the other/Other. The rebellious frustration that energizes his body finds its expression, for example, in his crude refusal to quietly accept the rules of the Other introduces (e.g. ignoring the road-worker’s instructions) and his need to find fault with the other is made evident in how he treats fellow fisherman Ryoma Nogi (Kisetsu Fujiwara).
It should evident that the frustration that drives his speech and speaks through his comportment highlights the presence of an unresolved imaginary injury. The lack that he attacks within the Other is ultimately his own unaccepted lack. His agitated presence, furthermore, complicates the establishment of any kind of inter-subjective encounter whatsoever. The richness of swear-words in his speech and the violent agitation that marks his corporeal movements installs a distance between him and the subject, leading the subject-speaker to hide his/her Otherness from him. It is, in fact, due to his unquenchable agitation that his daughter feels unable to share her subjective struggle with him.
The strict rules he subjects others to is not without significance either. By forcing his own rules on other, he does not only violently erase any kind of subjective difference between him and the other, but also allows himself to avoid the confrontation with his own lack. His violent and suffocating strictness functions, in a certain way, as a defence against his own traumatic lack.
Yet, due to the tragic event, his defence starts showing cracks. While he still is prone to violently lash out to the Other (of the media) and rudely treat those around him – for example his ex-wife Shoko Matsumoto, he also breaks down emotionally at the sight of his daughter’s mangled body and starts paying some attention to how he as father failed (Narra-note 2). As he cannot erase his fatherly mistake (of not listening to his daughter), he takes it up himself to clear Kanon’s name. Yet, is he truly in search for the truth or merely out to impose his own constructed truth about the event and the nature of his daughter onto the Other? He violently approaches Naoto to force him to show proof that his daughter stole goods and confess to him what happened in the back of the supermarket between him and Kanon.
The impact of the event on Naoto Aoyagi is shown by exploring how the media, in its search to deliver sensation to the masses, can radically affect the lives of subjects. While the persecutory hunger of the media remains unpunished, the subjects subjected to its power are left to deal with pain and misery inflicted by its violence.
Yoshida’s narrative elegantly shows that media, to please audiences, are not truly interested in revealing the truth to their viewers. Media, beyond being informative, desires to entertain. By inciting, deceiving, and persecutory exploiting those concerned, the media aims to construct a ‘truth’ that engages and pleases its audiences. The media’s obsession with entertaining also succeeds in enticing viewers to express their own dissatisfaction through violent acts in the societal field. Yet, these acts of bullying are not simply signs of the subject’s discontent, but also attempts to gain some pleasure from the radical difference that marks oneself and this ‘criminal’ Other. What people aim to satisfy in these acts is nothing other than the fantasy of their own superiority. In other words, they exploit and demonize the mediatized lack of Others to feel better about themselves and forget their own discontent by medicating themselves with a surge of self-righteous pleasure.
The attempts of the media to demonise Naoto, the manager, leads some viewers to besmirch the supermarket with lolicon bastard and sex offender. The public demonisation of the victim – she was caught for shoplifting – leads others to hang flyers at Soeda’s house condemning his daughter’s actions and his function as parent. The former acts of violence underline how the media fuels certain fantasies while the latter show how accusations in the media (i.e. Kanon was shoplifting) are accepted by the public simply at face-value. The manipulated condemnation of Naoto, furthermore, negatively impacts his business and leads him to become ridiculed on message-boards for some shots of pleasure, while Soeda’s bursts of anger on TV are quickly turned into funny memes on social media for the others’ consumption.
It is also evident that the spreading of misinformation, nicely cut half-truths and malicious but delicious rumours impacts the relational fabric between Soeda and Naoto. Even though they are both victims of the thirst of the media, Soeda is forced by the media to see Naoto as a perpetrator and a liar. The continued impact of the persecution of the media, the ‘joyous’ and violent response of the public, and the relentless search of Soeda for a truth slowly violently disrupts the subjective logic of Naoto (Narra-note 3).
Intolerance also highlights, in the margin, the self-protective reflex that structures the school-system. The principal as well as the body of teachers all play their part in protecting and supporting the fantasy of a harmonious school. This does not only mean that they remain purposefully blind for signs that signal the presence of conflicts and tensions and highlight their pedagogic failure, but also that, when the truth of bullying cannot be denied, the inconvenient truth is carefully hidden from the societal Other. Luckily, the tragic incident does allow Kanon’s homeroom teacher Wakana Imai to question herself as teacher and consider the possibility that she, in her own way, remained blind for Kanon’s subjective position.
To visualize the tragic story of Intolerance, Yoshida relies heavily on subtle shaky dynamism. This kind of dynamism does not only strengthen the emotionality of certain expressions and the subjective impact of signifiers and acts on others within the narrative, but also infuses realism into the unfolding of the narrative. The shakiness, in other words, functions as a visual reminder that these kinds of dramas can easily take place within Japanese society.
What allows Intolerance to become so engaging and impactful is, without a doubt, the acting-performances. Both Arata Furuta and Tori Matsuzaka prove their acting-prowess and make the subjective transformation their characters undergo due to the direct and indirect effects of the tragic accident believable. Arata Furuta proves his acting-talent and the power of his expressive facial expression by elegantly inviting the spectator to have some kind of sympathy for his unlikeable character.
Intolerance is a wonderful narrative that not only touchingly reveals how the media, in their relentless search to deliver pleasure to its audiences, is able to dislodge the logic of the subject it persecutes but also how a tragic accident can aid a subject in mending his problematic relationship with himself and the Other. The layered natural performances that bring Yoshida’s narrative alive ensure that Intolerance hits all the right emotional notes for the audience and that its message will long linger in the spectator’s mind.
Narra-note 1: Asako Kusakabe tries to be a support for Naoto. She even goes as far as to start flyering around the supermarket in a vein attempt to wake up passers-by to how media is manipulating information and maliciously frames certain events for the pleasure of its audiences.
Narra-note 2: It is also important to remark that when someone else points out his flaws as father he verbally lashes out. This lashing out underlines that Soeda is not yet ready to accept that he failed in his fatherly function and was blind and deaf for who his daughter as subject truly was.
Narra-note 3: Soeda is not only able to avoid the destructive impact of the media due to his acts of isolation, but also because for him the Other was already a problem. Yet, as the narrative shows, his radical refusal of the possibility that other/Other can have good intentions is not without any destructive consequences.
Whether a subjective change can happen within Soeda, a subjective change that transforms his agitated presence within interactions, is merely function of his ability to explore and accept his own lack as father.