Any Crybabies Around? (2020) review [22nd Nippon Connection]

Introduction

With Any Crybabies Around?, Takuma Sato blends his childhood experiences in Akita and his memories of the people he met during his years of research in Akita to create a narrative about local traditions, fatherhood, and the wounds inflicted by others that the subject is forced to carry for the rest of his/her life.

Review

One night, Tasuku Goto (Taiga Nakano), much to the dislike of his wife Kotono Sakuraba (Riho Yoshioka), joins the traditional year-end festival called the Namahage. While Mr. Natsui (Toshiro Yanagiba) of the Namahage preservation committee explains on national TV that the sacred festival is not simply about scaring children, but about teaching good ethics to children, teaching men to become reasonable fathers, and rekindling the familial bonds, his signifiers are ridiculed as Tasuku runs in front of the camera wearing nothing but his ogre-like mask.

Two years later, spurned on by Shiba, the now-divorced Tasukureturns to his hometown to try to make it up to his ex-wife and daughter Nagi. Yet, upon encountering Kotono in the town’s entertainment district, she confronts him with her impending remarriage.  

Any Crybabies Around? (2020) by Takuma Sato

Any Crybabies Around is a narrative that, in essence, explores the effect the radical difference between one’s signifiers and one’s acts sorts on others and the subject as such. In Tasuku’s case, the gap between his signifiers and his acts, between what he promises and what he does, is caused by his difficulty of saying ‘no’ to the fatherly Other and the Other of tradition.

Tasuku’s ‘betrayal of promises’ puts – to no one’s surprise – his marital relationship under pressure. His comportment complicates his relationship with his wife because his ‘disloyal’ acts force her to question the subjective weight of his signifiers as well as the very love he feels for – her demands being subtle demands for love. Tasuku’s hollow signifiers and contradictory acts echo his lack of commitment towards Kotone and his new-born baby, Nagi.

It is also due to the gap between Tasauku’s signifiers and his acts that a tensive distance has come to mark his relationship with Kotone. A lot remains unsaid between them (e.g. the expectations and hopes of his wife) and the tension, sensible in their silences, underlines the presence of an unsaid that boils just underneath their vocalized signifiers. Tasuku, in fact, utilizes his signifiers to avoid any kind of confrontation with his wife and try to safeguard his position as husband and father (Narra-note 1). That Tasuku fears losing his wife – this is his unsaid – underlines that he fully realizes that his acts are problematic.

Any Crybabies Around? (2020) by Takuma Sato

Can we not interpret Tasuku’s acts as acts of childish rebellion against the (m)Other, against the Other who does not respect or allow a subject to continue the family tradition? Is it not also highly ironic that he who cannot refuse the fatherly Other, represented by Natsui and his deceased father, and the Other of tradition (i.e. the Namahage festival) ultimately defiles it? At the same time that he opposes Kotone, the M(other), and tries to honour the fatherly tradition, he radically besmears it by underlining his inability to take up the fatherly function within his family.

It is evident that to make any chance at mending his broken marriage Tasuku’s signifiers have to overflow with his subjective commitment to Kotone and Nagi and his acts need to act as tangible signs that such commitment drives him (Narra-note 2). While saying “I’m her father” installs a symbolic commitment, such commitment needs to be corroborated with symbolic acts – fatherly acts. Tasuku starts to collect money to pay for child support and alimony. Yet, is the mere collection of funds enough for Tasuku to convince his ex-wife of his symbolic commitment to her and their child? Can addressing signifiers (‘Give me another chance’) that palpably resounds his subjective hope force Kotone to reconsider her decision to remarry? (Narra-note 3)

Dynamism is thoughtfully used within the composition of Any Crybabies Around. Tracking movement and static moments are thoughtfully combined (within shots and within compositions) not only to diminish the need for cutting but also to allow Takuma Sato to give a pleasant peaceful flow to his narrative. As the composition generally circles around Tasuku, the flow it creates can be qualified as a subjective one. The visual rhythm echoes Tasaku’s rhythm. The spectator, drifting on his daily rhythm, is elegantly invited to experience the narrative from his perspective.

Any Crybabies Around? (2020) by Takuma Sato

Static sequences are generally used to frame speech-interactions. The calm manner in which Sato slowly concatenates his shots is instrumental in allowing Taiga Nakano and Riho Yoshioka – both give a wonderful performance – to breathe life into the subjective presence of their character and to make the relational tensions and conflicts tangible for the spectator. Static shots, on the other hand, are applied to create thoughtful compositions and deliver moments of visual pleasure. These kinds of moments, when combined with a bit of music, elegantly reflect Tasuku’s emotional state to the spectator.

Any Crybabies Around? is a amazing drama that sketches out the destructive effect of the gap between one’s signifiers and one’s acts on others and shows the spectator that what the marital ‘motherly’ other truly demands is not simply obedience but love. The energy that the layered and subtle performances of Taiga Nakano and Riho Yoshioka inject into Any Crybabies Around? does not only ensure that the spectator remains engaged throughout, but also that Sato’s exploration of miscommunication or non-communication touches audiences.

Notes

Narra-note 1: It is the way in which he tries to safeguard his position as father and husband through speech (e.g. needs a father) that highlights Tasuku‘s fear of losing his position within the family. Yet, this lingering fear, which signals that he understands the problematic nature of his behaviour, is not powerful enough to force a subjective change within him.  

Narra-note 2: One of the first signs that underline that Tasuku is serious about mending his relationship with Kotone is when he refuses to leave the hostess club in accordance to the boss’ wishes.

Narra-note 3: If Kotone refuses, the only thing that Tasuku can do is to confront, for himself as subject, his own fatherly failure in an act.

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