She is Me, I Am her (2022) review [Japan Society – Female Gaze]

Introduction

With Intimate Stranger (2022), Mayu Nakamura impressed audiences with a narrative that erotically explored how problematic mothers can be for their children. Now, several months later, she releases an omnibus narrative to offer her creative vision on the impact of the covid-situation has had on subjectivity, relations and desire.

Review

Among Four Of Us (General-note 1). A little while after the state of emergency has been lifted, Koji (Kusano Kota) calls his former drama-club friends Nanae (Nahana) and Fusae (Urabe Fusako). While, at first, they talk about how the covid-situation has affected their life – Koji complains that all his stage and film jobs were cancelled and Nanae underlines the burden that befalls her as housewife due to the situation, the conversation quickly turns to the subject of Sayoko, a sexually proactive girl who, during college, affected all three of them. 

She Is Me, I Am Her (2022) by Mayu Nakamura

The beauty of the first short-narrative lies in the fact that it intersects two homologous narrative layers. The first layer concerns how the virus affects the daily life of our three protagonists and the second layer explores how a certain girl, as a symbolic and imaginary virus, affected and keeps affecting the mental life of our protagonists. 

Nakamura touches upon the impact of the state of emergency (e.g. the need to socially distance oneself from others, the stay-home directive, …) on social and professional lives and the subjective state of boredom/solitude that is exacerbated by it. She also demonstrates how the internet allows for a kind of meeting to take place, but a meeting that, due to the lack of real bodies sharing the same space, has a vastly different quality. She highlights how such virtual meetings lack pleasure for many people – a pleasure function of the interactional dynamics of meeting bodies, but not without noting that, for other people, such virtualized way of meeting protects their subject.

The second layer explores the impact of a girl on the subjectivity of each. The characterization of Sayoko by Fusae is damning. Not only does she imply that Sayoko was driven by a certain envious narcissism – she wanted to steal what others had, but also that she was a master at utilizing her kawaii-ness, her lack, to ensnare men’s desire (Narra-note 1). Nanae underlines, in a very Freudian way, that that girl might have been searching for father figure in her romantic endeavours. Yet, the ‘truth’ of Sayoko’s subject is not what is important. What is most important is the staging of the the fact the acts and signifiers of a subject continuously affect, often in surprising ways, the subjective trajectory of others.   

Someone To Watch over Me. Kazuya (Masao Yoshii), who works for meal-delivery service, is somewhat taken aback when his female client (Nahana), while crying her eyes out, refuses her food. Through her tears, she invites him to eat what she ordered. The next time he brings her order, she offers her food again to him. Of course, this surprises him, but she explains to him that she wants to watch him eat so heartily again.

She Is Me, I Am Her (2022) by Mayu Nakamura

This narrative, just like Among Four Of Us, touches upon the impact of the state of emergency (e.g. the need to socially distance oneself from others, the stay-home directive, …) on the emotional state of the subject (e.g. loneliness), his finances, and his daily structure.

The second narrative does not simply explore the need for a basic social connection, but the importance of a bodily presence. The negative impact of the state of emergency on the subject is mainly caused, as Someone To Watch Over Me elegantly echoes, by the demand to radically avoid the other’s body, to avoid the sack of flesh and bones that gives our acts and signifiers their full social dimension (Narra-note 2).

The presence of the body is, as Nakamura shows, closely linked with the dimension of desire. While the capture of desire is radically imaginary in nature – the phallic shine that adorns the perceived body as image, the Real bodily presence facilitates the process of becoming desiring. For her, it is Kazuya’s manner of eating – i.e. his facial expressions while he eats – that becomes the imaginary site of beauty that makes her feel alive, that enflames and entraps her desire.  Moreover, Nakamura evokes the not well-known truth that the rhythm of one’s life is in many cases determined by being desiring and by being having another body near (Psycho-note 1).

Ms. Ghost. One night, a sex worker (Nahana) sees the woman (Miyoko Asada) whom she calls Ms Ghost on all fours looking for something. She offers her help and finds an old picture of an attractive girl lying a bit further away. The old lady tells her that she is the young girl in the photograph and that she was a stage actress in the past.

She Is Me, I Am Her (2022) by Mayu Nakamura

It is not surprising that the third narrative also touches upon the impact covid had on subjects (e.g. the need for some connection) by disturbing the rhythm of society (e.g. hostess bars closing, cancelling of part-time jobs, … ). Yet, Ms. Ghost also highlights that the field of sexual entertainment largely evaded the consequences of the covid-restrictions – sexual desire does not let itself be tamed nor does the desire to exploit such desire for financial gain.

Yet, Ms Ghost also touches upon the more violent consequences covid-restrictions can have on the subject caught within a neo-liberal capitalistic society. Within such society that imposes the necessity of enjoyment on the subject, the sudden installation of limits to combat the spread of covid can only be received as radical frustration of one’s need to enjoy. Such boiling frustrations ultimately seek a way to be abreacted, quite often via hateful violence directed at those who seemingly freely enjoy.

Deceive me Sweetly. One day,Takeuchi (Yu Uemura), Kayuza’s co-worker, rings the doorbell of his co-worker’s mother to pick up the money Kazuya needs for the hospital. Kazuya’s sister (Nahana) open the door. Of course, the family is being scammed. Yet, does she wilfully ignore this truth or is she merely playing along?  

She Is Me, I Am Her (2022) by Mayu Nakamura

The last narrative of She is me, I am Her fleetingly explores the influence of the covid-situation on the criminal field. Nakamura does not merely show how the criminal thirst exploits the covid-situation to make more victims. Not only can the swindler utilize the directive to wear the mask but he can also use the reality of an illness ravaging the land to give his scam-narrative more credibility.

Yet, Nakamura, by giving her narrative an unexpected twist, also underlines that the covid-situation with its societal restrictions and financial repercussions pushes some subjects to commit crime. The criminal act is, in a certain sense, born from the covid-situation, caused by the sudden economical frustration that overwhelm the subject.   

The composition of She is Me, I Am her is quite simple. Nakamura relies mainly on fixed moments to stage interactions and only utilizes some dynamism to ‘follow’ the movement of the character-in-focus. The compositional simplicity works well for Nakamura, as this static nature of her composition ‘forces’ her performers to infuse, via facial expressions and body language, the necessary emotionality to make the drama of the signifier and the signified effective.

That She is Me, I Am her engages the spectator is ensured by Nahana’s performance. She does not only prove her versatile as actress but also her ability to carry a narrative and communicate the emotions of her characters to the spectator in an elegant manner. She is Me, I am Her is, in short, a showcase of Nahana’s acting talent.

She is Me, I Am Her does not only prove Nakamura’s talent as director, but also showcases Nahana’s acting talent. Yet, that is not all. With her four narratives, Nakamura elegantly unpacks how the corona situation disturbs the field of desire as well how important the presence of bodies is within the societal field driven by desire.  

Notes

General-note 1: the review segment of Among Four of Us is a reworked version of a previous released review.

Narra-note 1: What we mean with utilizing kawaii-ness is nothing other than the playful exploitations of one’s lack to satisfy a man’s fantasy of being the necessary phallic complement that resolves her lack. 

Narra-note 2: We can, in this respect, conclude that the virtualisation of the social field will never be satisfactory for the subject – the bodily lack will create a void that cannot be erased and install an imaginary field that fails, in most cases, to have inter-subjective or symbolic effects. 

Psycho-note 1: With her narrative, Nakamura evokes the well-documented link between the oral dimension and love/desire. In the case of the jaded women, the lack of desire complicates the whole dynamic of accepting or refusing food. It is only when she desires that the intake of food, as carrier and support of the other’s love, can be normalized.  

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