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?
30 year-old Koji Tada (Koji Seto) runs a second-hand bookstore. One day, when making eye-contact with high school student Misaki Yano (Yuumi Kawai), she runs off with a book she did not pay for. He chases her and eventually succeeds in catching up with her. At the shop, while writing some contact details, she suddenly confesses her feelings for him and asks him to marry her.
He tries to brush her off – telling her she is too young, but she insists on marrying him. He sends her home, but gives her the book she tried to steal (Narra-note 1). Since then, this she keeps visiting him, giving him a love-letter each time. Not that much later, he learn that Saiki Ikka (Honami Sato), the girl he is in love with, is going to marry with Ryosuke (Ayumu Nakajima).
Love Nonetheless is narrative that not only shows the importance of the phallic fantasy for the male subject to engage in romance and sexuality, but also explores how charming the imaginary capture of one’s desire can be. Moreover, it shows that, in most if not all cases, male and female subjects fail to encounter each other in the sexual act – what the one seeks is not what the other aims to find in the copulatory act.
Spectators will easily notice that Koji, in his attempt to respond to Misaki’s initial confession, he does not radically refuse her desire. Rather, by referring to the societal Other – i.e. what will the Other do (i.e. arrest him) if I engage in sexual acts with you – as an obstacle for the establishment of their romantic bond, he grants her an inkling of hope.
By giving her books, he also echoes that the establishment of a romantic bond in the future is not radically impossible (Narra-note 1). While Misaki Yano, of course, receives these gifts as nothing other than gifts of his yet-unarticulated love for her, it remains somewhat unclear as to why he starts giving her books. In our view, Koij keeps her around because her presence allows him to find some pleasure in the fantasy of being desirable for the female Other. It is the lingering feeling of lacking as a man, as inflicted by Ikka’s romantic rejection, that makes him, unconsciously, organize their relation in such a way that he can utilize her desiring presence. It is also for this reason that he religiously reads all her love-letters and stows them safely away in a box.
Given his initial signifiers and his gifts-of-love, the mentioning that he is already in love with someone else can only be received by Misaki Yano as an excuse. It is due to this that she dares to confront him with his own subjective inhibition – his fear of being confronted with his own male lack – and challenge him to confess to her again. Yet, Koji is unable to. He wants to avoid the male lack that Ikka confronted him with by all means.
It should be evident that what Misaki loves about Koji is, in essence, a fantasy that has little to do with him as subject. Her desire might have found its goal in Koji’s bodily-image, it is maintained by fantasies and mysteries (Narra-note 2). Koji, in fact, fuels her romantic desire by installing a frail distance between them that keeps her unfulfilled but grants her fragments of his subjectivity (e.g. books, signifiers, mannerisms, … ) by which she can stuff her fantasies. Yet, will Koji’s continued frustration of her demand for his love not take the wind out her fantasies and her desire? Can she, confronted with such silence, ultimately force him to grant her an answer to her confession (Narra-note 3 (spoiler)?
Unbeknownst to Ikka, Ryosuke is having an affair with their wedding planner, Miki Kumamoto (Yuka Kouri). While their sexual relationship is just a fling and will end when he marries, their sexual encounters confront Ryosuke, at all times, with his own phallic fear. By wondering in her presence whether she will find another engaged man after him, he does not only question his own desirability but wonders what kind of object he is in the hands of Miki – who am I to you?
On the other hand, Ikka is left to her own devices to plan the wedding and calculate the budget. Ryosuke always finds an excuse to not help her. It is this repetitive avoidance of giving her a sign of his love that echoes his inner conflict about marriage and puts his desire for Ikka into question. Ikka’s crying is, in this sense, also a response to Ryosuke’s failure to show her love through his acts and signifiers. Yet, will she not find out about his infidelity? If so, what will her subjective response be to this betrayal? And how will this affect Koji and Misaki (Narra-note 4 (spoiler))?
The composition of Love Nonetheless stands out due to its thoughtful use of long-takes. This reliance on long takes does not merely infuse a sense of naturalism into the narrative, but also gives the cast the time to evoke the subjectivity of their characters via body language and the signifiers they evoke. In other words, it is by using long takes that the spectator is elegantly invited to explore the logic of the characters and the tension and the flow of the interactions between them. Shaky framing is, for this matter, thoughtfully applied to reverberate and heighten the emotionality of certain interactions.
Love Nonetheless also delivers sexual sequences that bathe in eroticism. It is not always easy to frame sexual encounters in a elegant but subtly arousing manner – many directors have stumbled, but Hideo Jojo reveals himself to be a master. Not only does he expertly echo the sexual excitement by richly playing with cutting, he also thoughtfully utilizes shaky dynamism to create a game of revealing and veiling that arouses the spectator (Cine-note 1, cine-note 2).
What allows Love Nonetheless to be as effective as it is are the performances. Jojo grants, with his composition, the cast the time to breathe life into their characters – and allow the spectator to read what speak through their body and expressions. The conversations are, as a matter of fact, only able to attain their naturalism due to the performances. Moreover, the romantic punchline only touchingly hits the spectator due to Yuumi Kawai’s charming and elegantly seductive performance. And the eroticism only succeeds in enticing audiences due to Honami Sato’s elegant staging of her Ikka’s discovery of sexual pleasure.
With Love Nonetheless, Hideo Jojo and Rikiya Imaizumi created a masterpiece – a modern classic. With an elegant composition, a composition that allows the spectator to carefully read the layered performances, we are not only introduced to the charming nature of being in a state of desiring and the impact of the phallic injury on the ability of a subject to fall in love, but also to how, in the sexual act, man and woman never meet each other at the same level.
Narra-note 1: Furthermore, he also invites her to come back.
Narra-note 2: The indeterminable nature of what captures our desire in the image of the other is highlighted by her inability to tell Masao (Jyotaro) what she likes about Koji. While it might seem like she is playfully refusing to answer his question, she is, in fact, unable, to put into signifiers the element that attracts or entraps her romantic desire.
Narra-note 3: For those spectators who have difficulty to grasp the end of the narrative, we can reveal the following: It is via her desiring presence, as revealed in her facial expressions and her signifiers, that Koji aims to overcome the traumatic impact – a phallic ravage – inflicted by Ikka’s romantic refusal. It is, in other words, at the moment that he feel himself to be worthy of being desired by Misaki that he will be able to fall in love with her.
Narra-note 4: How should we understand the Koji’s act of meeting up with Ikka at a love hotel and his initial refusal to have sex with her? His position is marked a subjective conflict. By agreeing to meet her he reveals that he harbours a vain hope to receive what he will not get – i.e. the affirmation of being desired by her. Yet, his refusal of her sexual invitation underlines that he is conscious of the fact that she does not desire him.
That he eventually agrees to fulfill her demand is solely due to the fact that she elegantly manipulates him. With one simple signifier – I’ll ask another guy, she entraps him by echoing that the only way that he can avoid a radical confrontation with his non-desirability, a reduction to the lack that he is as subject is by giving her his body. It is, in other words, only by giving his body to her that he can save his phallic dignity. This sequence, in fact, beautifully shows that a female subject can easily exert power over a male subject by exploiting the phallic fantasy that structures their subjectivity.
Yet, as he knows that his subject remains radically non-desired by her, he will ultimately refuse to continue their sexual encounters.
Cine-note 1: His thoughtful approach to framing sexual encounters is also revealed by framing the sexual encounters between Ryosuke and Miki in a non-arousing way. This non-arousing way echoes Ryosuke’s inability to sexually please women.
Cine-note 2: Hideo Jojo’s composition is only aesthetically pleasing due to the nice natural colour-palettes and the subtle use of depth-of-field.
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