In 2020, Hideo Jojo impressed audiences with his On The Edge Of Their Seats, a touching tale of not giving-up on one’s desire. Rikiya Imaizumi, on the other hand, charmed audiences with his Just Only Love (2019), His (2020) and his Over The Town (2021). Now, both directors join hands in a collaborative project to create two narratives, Love Nonetheless, directed by Hideo but scripted by Imaizumi, and Straying, directed by Imaizumi but written by Jojo, in an attempt to revive the erotic subgenre. Can both directors balance their qualities and utilizes their talent to create any masterpieces?
After Ako Machido (Nairu Yamamoto) filled in her part of the divorce-paper, Hiro (Katsuya Maiguma) starts a discussion about who gets Kanta (Osero), their black and white cat. While their discussion goes nowhere, Kanta accidently pees on the divorce paper.
At the magazine publisher where Hiro works as a journalist, things are not going that well either for Hiroshi. His boss (-) keeps confronting him with the fact that his lover Mamiko (Miyuu Teshima) keeps bringing in scoops, while he has offered the magazine little to nothing.
Ako, who works for an erotic manga magazine for ladies, is having an affair with her editor Matsuyama (Kai Inowaki). Yet, every-time they have sex, her climax is short-circuited by a sudden cramp in her leg. Not that much later, Kanta disappears.
Straying is a light-hearted narrative that, in a playful and charming manner, explores the dynamic of acting-out at the level of romance and sexuality. In more concrete terms, Imaizumi shows that what cannot be expressed in signifiers is addressed to the other via acts. Yet, such sexual acting-out can, of course, make things much more complicated.
As the tension between speech and act is the main thread within Imaizumi’s narrative, it is not surprising that Imaizumi reveals that, despite speaking to each other, subjects often fail to encounter the other as subject. This missed encounter can either be accidental, due to the misrecognition that structures speech, or on purpose, by refusing to grant the subjectivity of the other its place in speech.
We find one beautiful illustration of this failure in Hiro and Ako’s discussion about how to finalize the divorce and who gets the cat. Ako does not simply fail to hear Hiro’s subject, but by parrying his speech refuses to hear what echoes within his speech. While he aims to instigate a discussion that is not about the cat – but about what the cat represents, Ako short-circuits his intention by firmly claiming ownership over Kanta.
Kanta is, as is made evident in a flashback, nothing other than the object that binds Ako and Hiro together – the stone that gave their relationship its anchor. In this sense, Hiro’s fight over the cat subtle reveals that he is not yet willing to give up his relationship with Ako. The passiveness he displays with respect to resolving his divorce is an indication of his romantic doubt – and, for Mamiko, a sign that puts his love for and dedication to her into question.
Both women, in their own way, confront Hiro with his castration. His castrated position is not only revealed by Ako who determines the flow of the divorce and renders his speech void, but also by Mamiko who subtly confronts him with his failure as journalist and who tells him to act. And, rather than actively fighting it, he identifies with his castration, as his passive nature and his dejected body language so clearly reveal. Yet, his refusal to follow his hunch about Ako’s infidelity echoes that he, while identified with his castration, wants to avoid the brute confrontation with his truth (Narra-note 1).
Via the lens of the phallic game, we can also gain a better understanding of why Hiroshi reveals his infidelity to Ako. He does not simply want to confront Ako with her sexual frigidity, but reveal his phallic position – i.e. his position of being sexually desired by another female subject. In other words, he implies that the problems they have the bed are caused by a lack of desire on her part – and not his phallic insufficiency. One could even argue that Hiro, by confessing his failed acting-out, asks Ako to find a sexual desire for him.
If Hiroshi’s infidelity can be read as an acting-out, as a message directed at Ako, can we not assume that Ako’s affair is not so much driven by desire but by a need to formulate her own response to Hiroshi’s sexual betrayal? If so, are Mamiko and Matsuyama then merely objects within a game that tries to reveal to the other what cannot be directly said?
The composition of Straying is a quite static affair. Subtle dynamism does intrude the composition, but it is mainly used to shift from static-to-static moment. As Imaizumi’s relies on static moments to stage his narrative, he subtly invites the spectator to read the emotional flow of the enunciations, the communicative value of body language, and the dynamics that structure relations. The emotional and erotic fabric of Straying is, as a result, mainly driven by the performances. Nairu Yamamoto pleases with a charming performance and Katsuya Maiguma embodies the passiveness of a subject identified with his castration in a convincing manner.
The natural feel of Straying is determined by the colour-and lighting design. By relying on such naturalism, Imaizumi infuses his narrative with a tinge of realism – a subtle tint that echoes that the subjective positions and the relational and sexual dynamics of the narrative are richly present within society. Yet, this naturalism is, in a certain sense, decorated with a light-hearted flavour. This flavour is not only function of Ako and Hiroshi’s failures and certain funny situations but also due to playful music that often surges up within the narrative.
Straying might not be as powerful as Love Nonetheless, but Imaizumi and Hideo Jojo’s second work still offers a pleasant and charming exploration of the fact that, within the game of love and romance and beyond, subjects often rely on acting-out to reveal to the other what they cannot put into signifiers. Recommended.
Narra-note 1: The fact that Hiroshi is identified with his castration does not stop him from being desired by Mamiko. In truth, this seemingly contradictory fact echoes that what Mamiko desires in Hiroshi is not something that he truly has, but something that she, being a desiring being, has encountered in his image – a shine that does not refer to anything Real that he has.