While Junji Sakamoto has garnered some awards here and there with some of his narratives, e.g. Face (2000), Someday (2011), and Chorus of Angels (2012), he is not a director that is well-known internationally. Yet, in recent years, more of his work finds its way to the international festival circuit. In 2019, the drama-narrative Another World (2019) screened at the Tokyo International Film Festival and in 2020 his comedy-film noir I Never Shot Anyone (2020) screened at the Camera Japan Festival.
Kaoru Kiryu (Etsushi Toyokawa), a robot engineer and professor at a university in the nearby city, has been increasingly neglected teaching and research duties (i.e. invent a robot that can detect cracks in roads) at the university. Instead, he devotes his time to developing an android that looks like him.
One day, his brother Motomu (Masanobu Ando) approaches him to tell him that his father is dying and to persuade him to sell the manor and the land to cover his father’s and his own debt. Kiryu ignores his demands, but his unemployed brother will not give up that easily.
My Brother, The Android and Me is a narrative that explores how problematic the ego – here to be understood as one’s mirror-image, one’s reflection – can be for a subject. It is, in truth, one of few Japanese narratives that attempt to explore what psychotic disruptions can be and which symptomatic defences the subject installs to ensure his anchorage within the societal field.
Sakamoto’s narrative, at first, visualizes Kiryu’s routine and highlights the repetition that he installed into his life. He functions, in a certain sense, as a robot, structuring his days with a kind of empty repetition (e.g. go to the university, scribble the blackboard with formulas, apologizing for his bad handwriting, driving home in his bicycle, continuing his research at home, … etc.). Yet, is this kind of imprisonment not necessary for Kiryu to not loose his footing as subject within the societal field? Is this structuring repetition not his ego as such?
The radical disturbance of this empty repetition of his daily life would erase his ego but would also throw his subject into turmoil. That such ‘fracturing’ can happen is underlined by the bodily effect that the sudden confrontation with visual reminders of his traumatic past (i.e. the uncontrolled roaring of fire around a bodily presence, bodily shapes making love behind frosted glass) causes. Yet, these seizures – e.g. his leg becoming radically Other – are symptomatic defences, symptomatic formations created as a last defence to counteract the imminent bursting forth of his subjective disarray (Narra-note 1).
In our view, we should even read these symptoms – i.e. Kiryu’s limbs escaping the control of the ego, as being psychotic in nature. The empty repetition is, in this sense, an attempt to structure what remains highly problematic for him: the symbolic dimension. Yet, his failure to combat the intrusion of the Real is highlighted by the uncontrolled bodily jouissance that, at certain times, consumes his limbs. The Otherness of these pounds of flesh, in fact, signal that Kiryu, as a child, foreclosed the name-of-the-father and that his father failed in his paternal function.
That the symbolic is problematic for Kiryu is also emphasized by his problematic relation with the mirror – he cannot see himself as ego in the mirror, there is no relation between the reflected flesh in the mirror and Kiryu as ego constructed through daily repetition. The creation of the android is, in this sense, not only simply an attempt to make an other me, but to create a mirror-image, a mirror. Yet, the creation of the android is not simply an attempt to resolve the disturbance of the level of imaginary by creating a perfect mirror, but also by becoming in his own peculiar way a father in the symbolic.
My Brother, The Android and Me, furthermore, shows that if the central coordinates of his daily repetition and the kernel that structures his repetitive rhythm (i.e. the fatherly creation of a mirror-image) are respected, some variation to his daily rhythm is possible. Kiryu is not only able to drive a woman to a paediatrics/gynaecology clinic on the back of his bicycle, but he is also able to invite her to his own old western-styled mansion, which once served as a paediatrics/gynaecology clinic as well. Kiryu also forfeits going to work at the university in favour of visiting his dying father in the hospital (Narra-note 2).
What stands out in the composition of My Brother, The Android and Me is Sakamoto’s fine sense of composition. Yet, he does not merely deliver moments of visual pleasure by creating fine compositions with symmetry, colour-gradations, and geometrical play. What Sakamoto does skilfully is arranging his elegant shots of eccentric, curious, and mundane moments in such a way that an unheimlich sense come to characterizes the atmosphere and the bizarreness of the Kaoru Kiryu is sensibly emphasized.
It is, as a matter of fact, the fluid integration of bizarre elements that radically disturbs the atmosphere of the narrative (Cine-note 1). It is this eccentric disturbance, represented in Sakamoto’s narrative by the main character and the fragments of his past, that, from the outset, engages the spectator. The darkish colour-design and the graininess of the image also play an instrumental role in giving the atmosphere of My Brother, The Android and Me its unheimlich flavour. The unheimlich of Sakamoto’s narrative is also echoed by the musical accompaniment and the sound-design (e.g. rumbling thunder, the splashing of rain).
My Brother, The Android and Me is a fantastic narrative. Sakamoto does not only satisfy the spectator with his refined and elegant composition and a deliciously unheimlich atmosphere, but also with a compelling exploration of how certain subjects, psychotically structured, attempt to mend the problematic nature of the symbolic and the imaginary. Highly recommended.
Narra-note 1: The psychiatrist’sexplanation of Kiryu’s problems, while informative, is problematic because he forces his psychiatric knowledge onto Kiryu without letting him speak and without making any kind of attempt to find the logic of his symptom in his speech.
Narra-note 2: This change is possible due to the fact that what is most central in Kiryu’s daily structure is the creation of the other-me, the android, in accordance to the wishes of his late mother. The change in daily rhythm is, in truth, in function of his obsession.
Cine-note 1: Bizarre elements are, generally, visual in nature, but, in some cases, Sakamoto also plays the sound-design to emphasize the peculiarity of Kiryu Kaoru.