With Grown-ups, Takuya Kato presents his first-feature film. The narrative, which explores how conflict-ridden the path of becoming a woman can be, proves that Kato has attained a certain maturity as director. It is quite remarkable for a young and up-coming director to deliver a narrative of this emotional power and subtle complexity.
One night, design-student Yumi (Mai Kiryuu), after asking her boyfriend Naoya (Kisetsu Fujiwara) to not become angry, hands over a positive pregnant test. Yet, as she had sex with another guy during their brief break-up, she confesses, with much hesitation, that she is not sure who the father is.
Grown-ups is a well-structured non-linear narrative that engages the spectator into Yumi and Naoya’s trajectory by confronting him with two riddles about their past – Why did they break-up? And why did they end up together again? – and one about their relational future – how will they, given their relational past, answer to the reality of Yumi’s pregnancy? (Structure-note 1)
As a matter of fact, it is by introducing the element of the sudden pregnancy and the doubt about who the father at the very beginning of Grown-Ups that Kato whets the appetite of his audience and elegantly persuades him, as the narrative goes back and forth, to read the dynamic of their romantic struggle to predict the outcome for their future.
The fragmentary patchwork created by the narrative’s structure has another effect. By offering merely fragments of their past and their present, Kato does not only renders his characters somewhat opaque – demanding that the spectator reads between the lines, but also succeeds in emphasizing what remains absent between them (Narra-note 1). While Yumi and Naoya find pleasure in their interactions – through speech and sexuality, their interactions remain devoid of a true mutual symbolic commitment. What remains absent is, in our view, a kind of speech that firmly inaugurates an inter-subjective bond of love. In this sense, Yumi’s pregnancy, a sudden real that rears it head, is not an event that merely puts their relationship in question, but one that demands that both subjects reveal whether they are willing to symbolically commit themselves to each other or not. Yet, for this to be able to happen, both Yumi and Naoya need to fleetingly succeed in evading the imaginary dimension of speech to fuel their signifiers with their own subjectivity.
In our view, Grown-ups also needs to be regarded as an exploration of the fabric of speech, of the very fact that one’s subject is often absent from the speech he/she directs to the other as well as of the common inability of this other to hear within the signifiers that what is left unsaid. What Kato’s narrative makes truly sensible for the spectator is this subjective absence, so often resounding within the frail imaginary connection established by exchanging signifiers – a connection lacking emotion. Moreover, Grown-ups also shows that a subject’s failure to feel the difference between the fullness and emptiness of the other’s signifiers causes two subjects to unknowingly evade each other at the level of their subjectivity (Narra-note 2). Kato shows that the clashing of signifiers is essentially an imaginary conflict, a conflict caused by how one subject thinks about what the other should do without taking his/her subjective position into account.
It is evident from the composition that Kato wanted Grown-ups to be as natural as possible and that he wanted to create a visual feel that heightens the believability of the narrative. This naturalism is not only due to Kato’s rich reliance on dynamism – i.e. tracking shots, but also due to his thoughtful use of the cut (Cine-note 1). It is, in fact, by granting the spectator a glance at mundane moments that the spectator is invited to perceive or seek the ‘reality’ within this fictional narrative and the natural feel of conversations – a patchwork of signifiers, silences, hesitations, things that remain unsaid but signal their presence, and bursts of subjective truth – can come to its full right (Cine-note 2).
What also plays an important role in giving the film its natural visual feel is the lightning- and colour-design. Beyond infusing a sense of naturalism into the visuals, the somewhat darkish colour-schemes also aid in making Grown-ups visually pleasant to watch. The visual pleasure of the narrative is further enhanced by elegantly using depth-of-field and film-grain.
Of course, the naturalness of the narrative’s atmosphere, while relying on the feel of the visuals, is mainly function of the sound-design. The sound-design, luckily, does not disappoint. It is by creating a frame of silence – a silence made sensible by background noises and the speech-acts, that positive and negative emotions, expressed via the body and the way signifiers are vocalized, feel genuine and receive the power to reverberate within the space of the narrative and touch the spectator.
With Grown-ups, Takuya Kato delivers an intimate and touching account of the drama that romance and becoming a woman can be. Kato’s narrative excels not merely due to its naturalistic composition, but because of the impressive performances that allows the complex fabric of speech-interactions to be felt and the surges of emotionality to impact the spectator. Highly Recommended.
Structure-note 1: It would, in fact, be better that the narrative mixes up two linear narrative threads, the thread of the past and of the present.
Narra-note 1: Naoya’s sudden decision to break-up with Yumieludes our understanding. We could try to interpret this act, yet nothing in the narrative can corroborate such interpretation. Rather, can we not argue that Kato, beyond putting the spectator in the same shoes of Yumi, attempt to highlight how subject remains, essentially, opaque to himself.
Nara-note 2: This kind of miscommunication is, for example, sensible in the conversation where Naoya tells Yumi he wants to keep the child. Yumi’s response is, despite the agreement it expresses, is marked by a certain subjective absence and echoes a conflict that she has not yet resolved for herself, the conflict of keeping the child or not.
Cine-note 1: The dynamic and naturalistic feel of the narrative is also supported by Kato’s use of subtle shaky framing.
Cine-note 2: Kato heightens the feeling of intimacy within his narrative by integrating many close-ups and medium-shots within his composition.
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a demanding film with a narrative structure that requires attention…great acting there !!