Ryutaro Nakagawa is an overlooked star on the rise. His coming-of-age narrative Mio on the Shore (2019) impressed many spectators and his It Stopped Raining (2020) did not fail to charm audiences. Yet, can his One Day, You will reach the Sea, based on Maru Ayase’s novel Yagate Umi e to Todoku (2016) finally earn him the recognition he deserves?
Not long after Mana Kotani (Yukino Kishii), a waitress in an Italian restaurant called Bright Coast, learns that the friend she lost contact with, Sumire Utsuki (Minami Hamabe), has passed away, she is visited by Atsushi Tono (Yosuke Sugino). He informs her that he will go to Sumire’s mom tomorrow and asks her to sort out some of her stuff at his apartment. Reluctantly, she accepts.
One Day, You will reach the Sea is a character-driven mood-piece that does not only explore the subjective injury caused by the sudden experience of loss, but also how a ‘failed’ intersubjective encounter of desires can complicate the process of mourning.
The dimension that explains Mana’s struggle with mourning as well as the failure to truly encounter each other is the imaginary. The flashbacks that explore Mana and Sumeri’s past – from their first encounter on the first day of university, the event that initiated their friendship, the situation that muddled their relationship, to the last time they met – do not merely sketches out the dynamic of their amical bond, but also show how the imaginary is both the site of seduction and deception.
Mana, when we first meet her, is someone who struggles to navigate the ‘heterosexual’ social field. As introvert, the verbal approaches of the ‘horny’ male Other are vile attacks and render her radically silent. It is Sumire’s intervention within the social fabric (e.g. kissing her in front of the horny seniors) that radically silences the verbal but libidinal attacks of her seniors. This act highlights that Sumire is better at manipulating the imaginary social fabric, better at playing with the imaginary to safeguard herself and the other from the harm of the (male) other (Narra-note 1).
Not that much later – on their first trip together, Mana introduces the important role the imaginary plays within the dimension of romance. She tells Sumire that what attracted her in her ex-boyfriend was the profile of his face and the knowledge that he was a volunteer. Yet, while these superficial elements – these things part of his image – are important to enflame her desire, they did not protect her, as subject, from the destructive confrontation with the Otherness of the subject one is imaginarily attracted to.
By underlining the importance of the imaginary, both highlighted in the event that initiated their friendship and Mana’s story about her former boyfriend, Nakagawa invites the spectator to question whether Mana and Sumire can form an inter-subjective bond and give the act of loving someone deeply (fukaku, fukaku) its veritable meaning.
It is by forcing the spectator to confront this question that Nakagawa can sensibly show that something about Sumire’s subjectivity escapes the other – Mana nor the spectator can get a definite grasp on her. While Sumire’s mysterious beauty attracts the other, the way she playfully plays with signifiers always puts a seductive distance between her, as subject, and the other. Her sweet signifiers echo that something remains radically unsaid.
It is, in fact, the very playful installation of such a distance that seduces Mana because Sumire’s mysterious presence keeps her desire to encounter her Otherness unsatisfied. In more concrete words, the mysterious shine that takes Mana’s desire captive is that what remains ungraspable within Sumire, is that what she feels she is not able to give – i.e. her emptiness and her own desire. And while Mana might feel that Sumire’s presence brings out her ‘real’ ego, she is never able to vocalize her own romantic desire nor is her own presence able to coerce her friend to bring her subject into play within their relationship.
The sudden introduction of Atsushi Tono by Sumire is, as one can expect, highly problematic for Mana. Not only is he an unwanted element that complicates the intimate dynamic she established with Sumire, but his presence also suggests that Sumire’s desire has a certain sense. Sumire’s decision to move in with Tono and leave Mana’s intimate apparent further emphasizes for her that Sumire’s desire gravitates around Tono. For Mana, Sumire’s act functions as a sign of her rejection.
This mis-encounter of desires underpins Mana’s struggle with mourning. The path of mourning is, in a certain sense, blocked by her unresolved feelings for Sumire and the renewed confrontation with the riddle of her subjectivity (Narra-note 1, Narra-note 2). This difficulty is not simply underlined by her emotional instability – the loss of Sumire remains unaccepted, but also in the subtle violence that slips into her acts, signifiers, and into her speech’s tone and rhythm in her interactions with Tono. Yet, Can Sumire’s camera and the collection of video-tapes that Tono bequeaths to Mana give her some insight into the subjectivity Sumire was never was able to communicate to her? Can the continued interactions between Sumire and Tono create a minimal frame from which she can start to embark on journey of speech that will lead her to accept the reality of her friend’s death?
As the narrative unfolds, the mystery of the circumstances of Sumire’s death as well as what she could never put in signifiers are slowly revealed. By way of flashbacks from Sumire’s perspective, Nakagawa sheds light on what Sumire could never say to Mana and reveals the subjective struggles (of desire) she kept hidden behind her mysterious smile. These fleeting fragments, which reveal the radical failure of an inter-subjective encounter between their respective desires, makes the presence of her radical absence within the narrative space all the more emotionally impactful for the spectator.
The composition of One Day, You will reach the Sea offers, at first glance, a simple mix of dynamic and static moments. Yet, Nakagawa reveals himself to be a master in creating and integrating elegant shot-compositions fluidly in the fabric of his composition. The elegance of many of these shots is not simply due to the thoughtful use of symmetry and geometry or the softness of the colours-schemes but because Nakagawa allows these moments, by respecting the subjective state of Mana Kotani, to echo more than what signifiers possibly can convey – Nakagawa, in other words, creates time and space for Yukino Kishii to speak without signifiers, to communicate with silences (Cine-note 1). He tasks Kishii with bodily evoking Mana’s state of mind, be it a sad forlornness that speaks through her muscles or a silence that echoes a subjective conflict yet unresolved.
Nakagawa also utilizes dynamic moments in a thoughtful way. By blending floaty movement and dreamy-like music, he does not only create dynamic moments that are visually pleasant but also – albeit in a different way – highlight the emotional state of Mana Kotani. Nakagawa also poetically blends music and dynamic imagery to emphasize the weight of certain vocalized signifiers and allow the spectator to feel the impact of these words on Mana.
The anime sequence that opens the narrative is important in setting the mood of the narrative. This visual poetic piece, full of soft shimmering pastel colours and the peaceful rhythmical sound of waves, introduces, with a refined elegance the themes central to the narrative: death, separation, and loneliness. Yet, the power of this sequence is not merely limited to the opening. As elements of the anime sequence are subtle visually or verbally repeated throughout the narrative (e.g. train tracks, the sea, …), the heart-warming moments of bonding between Mana and Sumire are faintly contaminated by the haunting shadow of death and melancholy and Mana’s struggle to mourn her beloved friend attains the power to touch the spectator profoundly (Narra-note 3, Music-note 1).
Nakagawa’s One Day, You will reach the Sea is a splendid experience, not simply due to the elegant composition but because the flow of the composition allows the subjective position of Mana Kotani reverberate sensibly with the spectator. As a result of this refined composition, the themes of loss, failed encounters, and unresolved desires do not fail to touch the spectator deeply.
Narra-note 1: What also complicates the process of mourning is the fact that there is no material proof of her death. She became, in a certain sense, a radical emptiness, a hollow absence.
The effect of this absence on the process of mourning is highlighted when she tells one of her colleagues that she feels the need to find her body but also has the wish for her body never to be found. The fear of finding her remains is, in this sense, an effect of her wish to safeguard the fantasy of her being alive. Any material proof of her death would force her to accept her death and splinter the fantasy that keeps her mourning stuck.
Narra-note 2: Her lingering romantic desire for Sumire is highlighted, in the second half of the narrative, by the sudden intrusion of phantasmatic fragments (i.e. dreams and day-dreams).
Narra-note 3: As the narrative unfolds, Nakagawa slowly associates the signifier of the sea with the shadow of death. Eventually, what reverberates throughout the narrative’s spaces is nothing other than the deathly threat that the sea poses, the monumental power of the sea to the fracture the symbolic fabric of subjects – be it their friendships, their families, or their communities.
The final poetic animation sequence emphasizes, besides the threat of the sea, the fleetingness of life as well as the cycle of life and death – from every death springs new life.
Music-note 1: While Nakagawa does not use musical accompaniment that often, when he does it does not only strengthen the visual elegance of certain moments, but also succeeds in touching the spectator with Mana’s struggle to mourn.
Cine-note 1: The visual softness is not merely function of soft colour-contrasts, but also due to how his subtle use of depth of field smooths out the colour-transitions.