While Atsushi Ueda does not have an extensive oeuvre, he has some experience with high-school narratives, e.g. Cherry Blossom Memories (2015), and erotically charged-narratives, Fumiko’s Feet (2018). Can he bring, with his experience, Inio Asano’s polarizing Umibe no Onnanoko (2009-2013) to life in a satisfying way?
Koume Sato (Ruka Ishikawa), an ordinary junior high school girl living in a small seaside town, is devastated after Misaki (Yuki Kura), an older student she was crazy about, reveals he was merely using her for a surge masturbatory pleasure. In an attempt to get over him, she asks Keisuke Isobe (Yuzu Aoki), an introverted classmate who once asked her out, to have sex with her.
A Girl On The Shore explores the important role the dimension of fantasy plays within one’s subjectivity and one’s presence in the social field as well as the necessity of the act to allow the subject to embark on an attempt to escape one’s identification with the societal position of trash.
The opening of the narrative tasks the spectator to determine what Koume’s wandering on the shore means for her as subject. What does she hope to find on this desolate beach full of trash? She keeps on returning to its shores, yet seemingly never finds what she is hoping for. The continued failure of finding an object of desire between the objects on the beach compels her to question the existence of her desire – maybe, I never hoped for anything in the first place. Yet, the attraction the shore holds over her can also interpreted differently. Rather than the beach being a place where she could find an object of desire, it is a place that satisfies her unconscious identification with the trash, with what is unwanted by the Other (Narra-note 1 (spoiler)).
This interpretation allows the spectator to realize that what Koume desires is not simply love, but to be loved by the Other. She desires to be a treasure of the Other, not a piece of trash that has no worth. This desire determines all of Koume’s action and reactions within the narrative.
Koume is injured by Misaki’s exploitation not only because she comes to realize that his seductive signifiers merely aimed to dupe her – you are my type, but also because he laughingly reveals that she was merely a simple tool to grant him a surge of phallic pleasure. While she hoped to see her status of being his beloved reflected in his signifiers and his eyes, his jocular mood grants her nothing but the rank of an instrument of pleasure, an instrument to be thrown away after it served its purpose.
The desire to be someone’s beloved also underpins her decision to offer her body to Keisuke. Simply said, she offers her body in an attempt to extract some pleasure from the fantasy of being Keisuke’s beloved. While the presence of such fantasy is not explicitly touches upon, its existence is underlined by the fact that Koume’s offer of her body is solely based on his past confession and supported by her refusal to question Keisuke’s current feelings for her. Keisuke’s past confession is, in other words, utilized as a gateway to access her fantasy of being loved by the Other, a fantasy that she, by offering her body, his sexual drive, and his member, can fleetingly indulge in (Narra-note 2).
In the sexual dynamic that unfolds between them, intersubjectivity is radically absent. Koume makes it evident that the only thing that has any importance for her is Keisuke’s member, his ‘cute’ phallus that does not babble stupidly. The veritable support of her fantasy, its nodal object, is nothing other than Keisuke’s erected flesh. It is only be receiving his penis that she can dupe herself into believing that she is given love and the ejaculatory proof of being the Other’s beloved. If she feels that she loves him it is because, in his arms, she can feel loved.
Sadly, such self-deception cannot continue. Eventually the reality of his signifiers and acts will come to complicate her ability to indulge in her fantasy of being desired/loved. Yet, how will she respond to the fleeting realization that she nothing but the object of his phallic pleasure, that the gift of his phallus is merely a masturbatory act, an act to extract some pleasure from her flesh of her hole (Narra-note 3)? How will she respond when he explicitly states that he’s sick of sex and does not need her? Can she realize that his rejecting signifiers are function of his depressive position, of the eroding emptiness caused by the absence of an object-of-desire?
Keisuke, as becomes evident in A Girl On The Shore, is plagued by depressive feelings and suicidal thoughts due to the fracturing impact of his brother’s death. He questions the relevance of his existence within the social fabric – Nobody’d care if I stop existing – as well as his right to establish a connection with an Other and the moral nature of breathing some eros within his depressed body through casual sex (Narra-note 4).
The suicidal violence that lingers within him also determines his social presence, a presence that either ignores the repulsive others around him (e.g. the airheads, cocksuckers, and the shitheads), to keep the vile Other at bay, or violently provokes the Other (e.g. Shota Kashima (Oshiro Maeda)) to subject him to their brutality, be it through filthy signifiers and bloody acts. This external violence is, in other words, not merely an expression of the struggle within him but also a subtle attempt to realize his phantasmatic position, i.e. to become the nothing in the eyes of the Other.
Where does this depressive position come from? Simply said, it is caused by Keisuke’s failure to find an address for his suffering. His inner struggle cannot find any expression in signifiers because there is no Other he can address it to – he remains stuck in the belief that the others that surround him are unable to understand his subjective ruin. Keisuke feels imprisoned by his depression because there is, within the social field, no shiny female object that offers him a way out, no object that can breathe life into his desire by holding it captive (Narra-note 5).
The composition of A Girl By The Shore offers a balanced blend of static shots, pleasing fluid tracking moments, and subtle floating dynamism. More shaky dynamism is also applied by the director to either heighten the emotional weight or to reverberate the tension within interactions. The subtle use of depth of field, for that matter, gives the visuals of A Girl By The Shore a pleasant softness.
What stands out in Ueda’s composition is the fluid integration of fleeting poetic moments (e.g. the opening of the narrative). He manages to create such moments by thoughtfully combining well-composed shot-compositions, fragments of inner-monologue or elucidating dialogues, and elegant music.
Ruka Ishikawa impresses as Koume. Her performance does not only stand out due to the seductive innocence she infuses into her character, but also because she gives reality to that something – i.e. her desire to be loved – that escapes her as subject. Yuzu Aoki, for that matter, does well in making Isobe unlikable – i.e. the vicious anger bursts. Yet, the structure of the narrative does not allow him to bring his struggle with being ‘trash’ in the eyes of the other to life with the needed delicacy.
A Girl On The Shore could be qualified as a romance narrative, yet such simple qualification could blind the spectator for the fact that Ueda’s engaging film is all about two subjects trying to escape their phantasmatic identification with the notion of trash. Ueda, with some sense of compositional elegancy, shows the spectator that Koume tries to escape her position of trash by becoming, at the level of her fantasy, the beloved of the other while Keisuke attempts to escape his self-destruction by violently carving out a place from where desiring is possible.
Narra-note 1: What she ultimately finds at the shore does not only underline her choice to leave the past behind, but also inaugurates the beginning of the disintegration of her identification with the unwanted trash on the beach.
Narra-note 2: The act of giving her body installs an interesting dynamic. It is by offering her body as sexualized that she installs a need in the male other, a need that she, driven by her desire to be loved, elegantly mistakes as an expression of his desire, a craving mistaken for a sign of love.
Koume also needs the male other as bodily presence to indulge in her fantasy of being loved. This need invites her to try and ignore the clear signs that Keisuke does not love her – Sex with love is just a fantasy. Koume’s unquenchable need also causes her to become irritated when he does not contact her and remains physically absent.
Narra-note 3: The first act Koume commits to secure the ability to indulge in her fantasy of being loved is deleting the pictures of the idol-like beauty Keisuke loves to gaze at from his computer. With this act, she attempts nothing other than to erase the proof that she is not the object of his desire. The second act she performs is going with Misaki and tell Keisuke about it. This act is not simply a try to make him jealous – to provoke his desire for her, but also emphasize her need for Keisuke’s body.
Narra-note 4: When Koume states that something is missing between them, she does not simply mean love. In fact, she highlights nothing other than the inter-subjective distance that remains between them, a gap due to Keisuke’s refusal to utilize her as an address for his inner-struggle and his failure to give her subjectivity a right to exist within their relational dynamic.
Narra-note 5: Yet, it also needs to be said that he does not allows himself to find a way out before he took his revenge on those responsible for the death of his brother. He refuses the effect of the signifier in favour for the closure promised by taking bloody reven