Two On The Edge (2022) review [Japannual 2022]

Introduction

While Yusuke Kitaguchi has been active in the film industry as an actor for a while, appearing in films like Outrage Coda (2017) and Chiharafuru Part III (2018), he never hid his directorial ambitions. After making a few shorts, he finally takes the leap to deliver his first feature film, starring idol Meiri Asahina.

Japannual

Review

After spending her youth at Wakaba orphanage, Otose Nishizono (Meiri Asahina) is finally ready to life on her own. With the aid of the orphanage’s caretaker Yoshi (Charu Inoue), she moves to a small apartment and starts working at a hotel. Not much later, Yoko (Akie Namiki), her mother, visits the orphanage to ask the caretaker to meet her daughter. Yet, he refuses to give her Otose’s contact details. To get what she wants, she seduces him.

Yume (Maki Teraura), an underground idol, is flustered to get a positive result on her pregnancy test. After the concert and returning home, she tells her mother about her pregnancy. She promptly asks whose child it is. Yume confesses that Murata (Osamu Hirata), the married manager of the idol-group, is the father. She wants to tell him about her pregnancy, but she struggles to approach him when he is alone.

Two On The Edge (2022) by Yusuke Kitaguchi

Two On The Edge, by sketching the different shapes motherhood can takes on, highlights the centrality of the desire to be loved within the logic of the neurotic and the joys and problems such desire creates by its enduring and unresolvable presence.

The way the desire to be loved structures the subject is most evident in the character of Otose. The centrality of this desire resounds in the way her traumatic past has shaped her, in the acts she enacts and the signifiers she addresses to the o/Other. 

How this desire occupies her is, first and foremost, illustrated by her childhood fantasy of reincarnation. Being radically cut off the pleasure of feeling loved by her meek mother and her tyrannical father, she had no other option to consider herself as the bad-object that ‘righteously’ causes the abuse. Yet, despite the continued abuse, the undestroyable desire to be loved by the (m)Other gave rise to the fantasy of being reincarnating as a good-child, a child worthy of her mother’s love (psycho-note 1). Moreover, this fantasy of being the good child who is showered with love keeps guiding her subjective path, rendering her highly vulnerable to the empty signifiers of love given by an (m)other who aims to financially exploit her. 

Two On The Edge (2022) by Yusuke Kitaguchi

This desire to be loved is also evident in the appearance of Otose’s dressed-in-black friend (Taiji Doi). He is, in fact, nothing but a fantasy that gives expression to said desire. It is this fantasy of a friendly father-figure who loves and protects that bursts forth when her subjective position is slowly crumbling. This fatherly spectre guides her when she is unable to respond to her situation. He has no other aim than to restore her subjective equilibrium, even if it means revealing another kinds of desire that linger within her unconscious. 

In this sense, any kind of violence towards him is fundamentally auto-mutilative and self-destructive. Thus, when Otose attacks her fatherly fantasy to reassure herself that she is doing fine, she actually ends up etching revealing the true state of her subjective position in her flesh with the cutter.  

Kitaguchi also succeeds in elegantly revealing that the logic of the idol-music is deeply neurotic and that, in essence, such music, in its most ‘traditional’ form, is all about exploiting the oedipal desire to be loved. By giving, through dance and song, the male spectator an imaginary lack – a lack of love, the idol-image aims to ensnare the male fan by inviting him to imagine himself to be an answer to that lack. Yet, for Otose, such music is able to crudely confront her with her own unvocalized subjective struggle.   

Two On The Edge (2022) by Yusuke Kitaguchi

As Otoso’s call for being loved cannot be silenced, it is quite understandable that she keeps returning towards the mother figure. Yet, can she come to accept that Yoko will never be what she desires – the image of an ideal mother is but a unattainable fantasy? Can she meet her mother as the deeply flawed human being she is, as a subject whose logic is marked by the encounter between her own desire for love and the violence of her tyrannic husband and by the conflict between her own wish to assume the position of mother and the alcoholic and financial thirst that invades her body (Narra-note 1 (spoiler))?

Kitaguchi’s composition offers a nice blend of static and dynamic moments. While most static shots are fixed and most moments of dynamism are fluid, Kitaguchi also utilizes shaky framing at times. Such shaky moments are often used to reverberate the emotional dimension of a given scene (e.g. emphasize the vileness of the abusive familial situation) or the unvocalized subjective tension (e.g. Otose running away after the bento-shops owner talks to her), yet, at other times, such surges simply aim to add a bit of variety (Cine-note 1). 

Two On The Edge (2022) by Yusuke Kitaguchi

The visual pleasure of his composition is ensured by the elegant interplay of three visual elements: the visual grain that marks the night-time scenes, the elegant play with depth of field, and the thoughtful colour-contrasts. While cinematographer Hinata Ishihara delivers many elegant shot-compositions as such, the use of depth-of-field and elegant colour-contrasts allows him to emphasize the geometrical tension of the shot, an emphasis that heightens the scopic pleasure of the shot.

Two On The Edge is a touching experience that highlights that the desire to be loved, for better or worse, is the ulitmate guide the neurotic subject within the societal field. Yet, the power of the narrative is not simply function of the visually pleasant composition, but of the actress that inhabits the narrative spaces. In fact, Kitaguchu, with his elegant composition, opens up the space for Meiri Asahina to make Otose feel genuine and her subjective conflict the power to captivate the spectator. Asahina, in short, impresses.

Notes

Psycho-note 1: It is by passing through the oedipal event that the neurotic subject comes to be marked by the desire to be loved as well as the desire to desire. For Otose, the radical perversion of her oedipal rite gave this desire for love a even more prominent place in her subjective logic.

Narra-note 1: One can also reformulate the questions from the mother’s perspective. Can she see her daughter is anything other than a money-pouch to be picked dry for her own cravings?With his finale, Kitaguchi evokes that only by having nothing, by having nothing but lack, that mother and daughter can truly think of ‘starting over’.  

Cine-note 1: Kitaguchi has thus created a composition where shakiness is either communicative or a simple decoration without any added value.  

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