With his first feature film, Noise (2017), Yusaka Matsumoto garnered a lot of praise on the international stage. Yet, after the success of this feature, Matsumoto focuses mainly on creating short-films, like Made in Japan (2018) and Bagmati River (2022), and tv-work. Now, after a few years, he finally presents his second feature film to the world: It’s All My Fault.
One night, a heavy earthquake hits the region, heavily shaking Hikari-en Children’s Home. The following morning, some of the children discover that the rabbits have died. While the others mourn the rabbits together and decorate their graves near the tree, the introverted Yuta (Haruta Shiratori) does not join; he stands motionless near the hutch, peering into nothingness.
Not that much later, Miss Yumika (Mai Kiryu) approaches Yuta to invite him to speak more about himself, yet he merely asks her when he can see his mom. Yumika remains silent, hiding the fact that his mother Rika Matsushita (Marika Matsumoto) has not answered any of their calls since a long time. One night, he decides to take matters in his own hand and search for her.
At first, his mother welcomes him, but she soon calls Hikari-en Children’s Home to pick him up. Seeing Yumika at the doorstep, Yuta breaks down crying. Feeling he has nowhere to go, he runs away. The next day, he encounters a middle-aged guy (Jo Odagiri), who lives in a broken truck near the sea.
It’s All My Fault explores how the lack of mother’s love marks the subject. Via three main characters, Matsumoto does not only evoke the unique faces of female subject who fail or refuse their motherly position, but also how each subject struggles, in his own way, to give this motherly absence its place within his/her subjectivity.
Yuta is troubled by his mother’s act of putting him in an orphanage at the age of five. While, for him, her act is a riddle, he still believes that he is loved by her and that she will come back for him. As a matter of fact, it is because his fantasy of a loving mother is not tarnished that he decides to run away. He departs to re-gain the motherly love that he lacks at the orphanage, the love that is, in his fantasies, waiting for him.
While he gets a taste of this motherly love by Rika, the sudden appearance of Yumika at the doorstep confronts him, once again, with the truth of his mother’s refusal. This betrayal does not merely crumble his fantasy of being loved by his mother, but reduces him to ‘nothing’. Why did you give birth to me? Rika’s act shows Yuta that there is no place for him – no place where he is desired nor a place from where he, by feeling, loved can find his desire. It is in response to being ‘nothing’ in the eyes of the mother that he dashes off in the dark nothingness of the night – he runs, in a certain sense, to become that nothingness.
Sakamoto is, in his own way, marked by the acts and signifier of the female subject that he called mother. She did not only physically abuse him to quell her own helplessness, but burdened him with guilt – It’s your fault – and reminded him that he was not desired – I wish you hadn’t been born. In a certain sense, she could not accept the Otherness of her child.
This traumatic rock that plagues his heart is, as the spectator easily feels, closely linked with the reason of his immobility, of his choice to keep living in his broken truck despite saying that his ultimate destination is Nagoya. So, what keeps him from leaving? (Narra-note 1, Narra-note 2)?
While it is evident that Sakamoto only keeps Yuta close to use him in his thieving and swindling practices, his acts of taking advantage of him grants him a minimal place and a function within a parental-like relationship – he opens a space for Yuta to occupy with his being. Yet, Sakamoto is not merely out to exploit Yuta is underlined by his act of giving him a share of their profit.
What allows Sakamoto and Yuta to slowly bond with each other is the very fact that they both feel unable to assume a place within society that is founded on the experience of being loved. They can encounter each other as subject due to the lack of motherly love that marks their subjectivity. Yet, will this bond not eventually persuade Yuta to symbolically grant Sakamoto the signifier of father? Will this bond eventually allow him to utilize the signifier as a subject and assume a subjective place by putting his subject into the shifter I?
While Shiori (Ririka Kawashima), Sakamoto’s friend, had to grow up without a mother – she died when she was young, the family structure remained intact – with a cold father that ensured their livelihood and an older sister, who, in a certain sense, realized a semi-motherly position with respect to her. She is, nevertheless, troubled by her mother’s death, allowing herself to doubt the truthfulness of the story her father told her (Narra-note 3). Furthermore, as slowly becomes clear, this familial structure, marked by the absence of the mother and her love, did not allow her to find a place from where she can desire (Narra-note 4).
Matsumoto has not only found a pleasing balance between static and dynamic moments for his composition, but also elegantly employs the resulting contrasts (e.g. fixed shot vs subtle shaky shot) at times to reflect something of Yuta’s subjectivity to the spectator. It is, as a matter of fact, by employing such contrasts that Matsumoto highlights that a certain act or signifier affects Yuta. Matsumoto also beautifully employs static moments to strengthen how Yuta, via the signifiers he utters or facial expressions, emotional impacts the other – be it the other in the scene or the other that the spectator is.
What allows It’s All My Fault to emotionally touch the spectator are the performances and the chemistry between the main actors. Jo Odagiri, Haruta Shiratori, and Ririka Kawashima breath, each in their own way, life into the lack of love that structures them and their relationships. The heart-warming nature of moments of bonding is, furthermore, heightened by musical decorations.
It’s All My Fault is a narrative that explores how difficult it is for subject to assume a place for himself, a place from where he/she can desire, without the structuring influence of motherly love. Odagiri Jo, Haruta Shiratori, and Ririka Kawashima’s performances ensure that Matsumoto’s exploration has a rhythm of well-earned heart-warming and emotional moments, a rhythm that culminates in a subdued but powerful ending.
Narra-note 1: We would argue that what keeps him hanging between his point of departure and his destination is the very unresolved conflict between hishate for his mother andhis love for her.
Narra-note 2: When high-school student Shiori tells Yuta she envies Sakamoto for living freely, she radically fails to see the traumatic stone that has structured Sakamoto’s subjectivity. While she can only see him as living freely, it its the traumatic stone that made him stumble and chained him to this life.
Narra-note 3: In our view, Yuta can only desire Shiori because Sakamoto has granted him a place for his subject.
Narra-note 4: It is, in a certain sense, because her father’s ideal – study well and go to a university – functions as a cold law that Shiori seeks to transgress it. This transgression is, strange as it may be, addressed to her father. Why? Because it is only of she succeed to confront him with her Otherness that she will know whether he loves her or n