Non is a kind of creative jack-of-all-trades. Not only is she an accomplished actress, a fashion model, youtuber, artist, and a singer. It thus comes to no surprise that she also tries her hand at directing and screenwriting. Her first creative product is Ribbon. Can it charm the spectator or should she return to the drawing board?
2020. The art-university Itsuka (Non) attends decides to close the campus and completely cancel the graduation exhibition that many have been working on for a year due to the outbreak of covid-19.
With no educational structure to give her life its rhythm of creativity, she quickly falls into a state of mundane boredom and creative drought, lacking any kind of energy to give her own life a minimal structure. Not that much later, while visiting the park with her younger sister Mai (Karin Ono), they encounter a strange guy (Daichi Watanabe). Mai tells Itsuka that she recognizes him from somewhere and that he might be someone Itsuka knows.
Ribbon is a narrative that traces the generally negative impact of the corona virus on society and, as such, on subjectivity but also highlights, in a light-hearted way, the positive impact that interactions have on the subject and the passions that animate him. That Non’s Ribbon succeeds in charming the spectator is purely due to the concatenation of nicely structured and quite natural conversations, conversations that are mainly light-hearted but are also often marked by a subtle sorrow, sadness, or a flavour of angriness.
The impact of the lockdown is first and foremost the creation of a sort of forced emptiness – Itsuka’s friend Hirai (Rio Yamashita) attempts to fill her empty days with doing the laundry and cleaning her apartment, while Itsuka sleeps and wiles her time away doing nothing. The lockdown forces such emptiness not only because it washes away the educational structure that would motivate subjects to create or due to the impact of the forced lockdown on social functioning, but because of the radical way the goal of our art-students or the place to pursue their passions is taken away.
What remains is nothing other than a subjective emptiness. Hirai tries to wash and clean her emptiness away – yet, the daily repetition of her acts underline their failure, and Itsuka fails to escape this emptiness by letting it dictate her daily rhythm (e.g. by sleeping as much as possible and by leaving her painting unfinished). Can Hirai, cut-off radically from her passion, keep filling her days with this kind of empty repetition? Will Itsuka not eventually start filling the mundane emptiness of her daily life by engaging in some kind of empty repetitive act herself? Can she ultimately overcome her identification with such emptiness and find a way to chase her passion again (Narra-note 1)?
Itsuka’s mother (Haruki Misayo) hovers over Itsuka as someone who represents the ideals of the Japanese Other. It is not difficult to realize that the speech of her mother, who follows Other’s rules to combat the spreading of the virus radically, is mainly focused on reminding Itsuka of the expectations (i.e. become adult, get married) that linger within said Other. Her acts (e.g. throwing Itsuka’s unfinished painting away) function as implicit signs to say to her daughter that she fails, in her eyes, to abide to those societal expectations. It should be evident that the mother, as representative of the societal Other, leaves no room for Itsuka’s subjective voice with her speech and her acts.
Itsuka’s father (Daikichi Sugawara), seemingly without his own opinion, faithfully follows his wife’s orders – he might seem as a mediator at first, but he support the mother’s voice. And Itsuka’s younger sister Mai, as her clothing so clearly implies, has inscribed herself, in her own way, in her mother’s fear and the societal expectations she identifies with and readily professes to Itsuka (Narra-note 2). Yet, in what way is Itsuka subjectively marked by her mother’s devotion to rules?
And then, one day, she is suddenly approached by a man that introduces himself as Tanaka, someone who was in the same class and club at junior high school. Itsuka remembers, due to this encounter, that it was his compliment that fuelled her desire to become an artist and that she gave him the very artwork he praised as a graduation gift. Yet, while an inexplicable wish to confirm that this man really is Tanaka takes a hold over her, its pursuit is inhibited by a sudden fear (to confirm his identity) that clings itself to the rules that mark the lockdown (i.e. keep distance, put your mask on). Can she find a way around her fear and confirm whether Tanaka is really the Tanaka that liked her art in junior high school?
While Non mainly utilizes dynamic movement to bring her narrative visually to life, she also integrates many static moments into her composition. The use of static shots enables her to play with geometry and create many visually pleasant shot-compositions. Non utilizes dynamism in an equally visually satisfying way, yet some of her dynamic shots feel redundant – they have no added value.
Non also utilizes decorations, like slow-motion, is a pleasant way and the integration of more fantastical elements (i.e. floating ribbons, … etc.), moments visualizing the flaring up of Itsuka’s imagination to fleetingly cover up the emptiness of her mundane existence, are fluidly integrated and elegant additions that offers the spectator a more fantastical kind of visual pleasure (Narra-note 3).
With Ribbon, Non delivers a highly enjoyable and charming narrative about re-finding one’s passion within the destructive confines of the covid-19 lockdown. What engages the spectator is not solely Non’s disarming performance, but the natural fabric of concatenating interactions she created to push her narrative forward. Non, in short, proves with her first feature film that she has a future as screenwriter and director.
Narra-note 1: A subjective change will only be possible if the status of her art becomes clear to her – whether she should consider her work trash or something that can charm people. She will only be able to fuel herself with passion if she can overcome her identification with the trash that her work represents for the m(O)ther.
Narra-note 2: This identification with the mother does not stop Itsuka’s sister from discerning, like Itsuka, the absurd element in how serious her mother takes the pandemic and the possibility of being infected. Yet, she does no realize her own absurdity (of spraying everything with alcohol disinfectant)
Sound-note 1: In some scenes, the sound-level of speech lack a bit of consistency – the ‘loudness’ of speech of the medium shots contrasting a bit too much with the somewhat- too-silent speech that marks the long shots.
Narra-note 3: The ribbons do not simply visualize the bursting forth of her imagination, but shows how Itsuka’s passion is, in itself, locked up. They are stuck in the empty space of her apartment and cannot, due to the fading away of Itsuka’s passion, find their way to the screen upon which she can express herself creatively.