While Tetsuya Mitsuhira usually works as an assistant director (e.g. The Journalist (2020)), he sometimes tries his hand at making his own movies. In 2018, he presented his first feature-length independent film ROAD to audiences. And now, four years later, he delivers his second indie film, a one-take psychological exploration of the impact of violence on the subject
Ever since she found out that her boyfriend Morimoto (Jin Arai) was actually married with children, Yuko Sawamatsu (Mihiro Kaneko) has been suffering. One night, he calls her ex-boyfriend and tells her that he wants to have a fresh start with her. she promptly answers that she does not love him and that he should not contact her again.
A few moments later, the intercom rings. Morimoto is standing downstairs and asks her to let him in the apartment block. She refuses, but he, who kept the spare-key, soon stands before her door. Yuko decides to let him in and is immediately sexually approached by him. In her attempt to defend herself from him, she finally ends up, much to her own horror, stabbing him to death.
One Day, A Woman offers a simple and straight-forward narrative that traces, in a compelling manner, how the act of murder affects the subject who committed this offence. Yet, that is not all. Mitsuhara also reveals the destructive and violent potentiality of the phallic fantasy, the thirst for being desired.
Before giving the spectator an insight into this fatal dynamic, Mitsuhara lets him/her to wonder what the significance is of the Jesus Christ statue in Yuko’s room. The Christian cross is not, as one might expect, a sign of her own religious beliefs but a visual reminder of her deceased mother and the cause of her radical refusal of Morimoto. If she rejects him, it is because he made her, with his deceiving signifiers and deceptive acts, commit a sin and disrespect her religious (m)Other (Narra-note 1).
The fatal dynamic of phallic fantasy is first foreshadowed by revealing the difference between how Yuko talks to her female colleague and how she, in the past, interacted with her boyfriend. The girlish tone and childish rhythm of her speech towards Morimoto solely aims at presenting herself as cute, as his object of desire, and to satisfy his desire of being loved by her by echoing, via her cuteness, that he possesses it (e.g. the impossible imaginary phallus). In other words, she enacts what he desires – i.e. a girl that because she lacks is cute – and shows, via her comportment, that he has what complements her.
This ‘phallic’ dynamic urges us to not misunderstand his “I need you” on the phone. The only reason why he needs her is to feel needed, to feel that he has what a woman desires. He divulges the truth of his approach soon enough by stating, face-to-face to her, that heknows she needs him. His sexual approach is, in this sense, a violent attempt to call forth what he assumes is her own desire – You want me, huh?; Be honest with yourself. His sexual -violence is, in other words, a vicious search for her desire so that he can feel desired as a man who has it for a woman (Narra-note 2).
And then Yuko accidently murders him. What follows is not only unfolding of a mental breakdown but a disoriented search for an Other that gives her a pacifying answer, a sign that it is not her fault and she will be forgiven. Will the religious Other answer? Will Jesus Christ, her mother’s Saviour, respond to her suffering (Narra-note 3)?
The composition of One Day, A Woman does not merely stand out due to its fluid lingering dynamism but because the narrative has been visualized with one take. This one-take approach plays an important role in keeping the spectator engaged with the narrative (Cine-note 1). The pleasant and natural colour- and lightning design ensures that the narrative is pleasant to look at.
Mitsuhara’s choice to shoot One Day, A Woman in one take puts a lot of responsibility on the cast. A one-take narrative does not work if it is not supported by great performances. Luckily, Mihiro Kaneko, who portrays the main character Yuko, smashes it, giving the violent disharmony of her character’s emotionality, a sign of her subjective disarray, its captivating genuineness. Her nuanced natural performance is not only a joy to watch – a veritable show-case of her talent, but the main reason why the spectator’s face remains glued to the screen.
Mitsuhara’s One Day, A Woman is an amazing one-take narrative. Mihiro Kaneko’s incredibly rich performance does not only engages the spectator from start to finish, but allows Yuko’s subjective turmoil, her flight from the societal Other, and her search for an Other that, by lying beyond, can offer salvation to attain its compelling genuineness.
Narra-note 1: Near the end of the narrative, the initial subjective trouble that marks Yuko is more clearly defined. Besides the sinful nature of her adultery, which function as a betrayal of her mother’s religious beliefs, Morimoto’s phallic trickery burdened her the failure of satisfying her devout mother’s last wish (of seeing her in a wedding dress).
Narra-note 2: It is interesting to see the meaning of his signifiers shift as the violent encounter continues. While, at first, he tries to convince Yuko of her desire for him – show me that I have the phallus for you, he ends up denigrating her for being unable to find someone who desires her and celebrating his own socially phallic position as a man with a family. He turns to the Other, the societal discourses, to satisfy his fantasy of being desired for having the phallus.
This shift in signifiers also changes the aim of the violence. While the sexual approach was first aimed at calling forth her desire for him, his violence transforms in an attempt to violently assert his phallic dominance over Yuko and erase the voice that confronts him with his radical lack, with his fundamental castration.
Narra-note 3: The ending of the narrative can be interpreted in different ways. Yet, in our view, Mitsuhara beautifully traces the subjective ravage of someone who is stuck between the Other she cannot address, as represented by the police officer, the neighbour, … etc., and the Other, god, who cannot respond. One Day, A Woman can, in this sense, be read as a subtle critique of religion – religion remains, more often than not, radically silent when faced with the effects of sexual violence on women.
Cine-note 1: While it does not harm the enjoyment of the spectator, the sudden speeding-up moment in the opening of the narrative feels a bit out of place.