Thanks to the practice program of the New Directions in Japanese Cinema (NJDC) project, Naoya Fujita releases her first short-narrative. Can she prove with her short that she can offer a new direction within the Japanese field of cinema?
One day, the coffee break of careerwoman Yuko (Mina Fujii) is disrupted by Naoki (Hiroki Sano), who unexpectedly and uninvited joins her at her table. He tells her that his life is structured around his passion for acting and that he, as a result, has no fixed place to sleep and no desire to do a part-time job. Charmed by his presence and personality, she starts letting him sleep at her place. Eventually, they marry.
Fujita’s Long-Term Coffee Break explores the fact that, within the interpersonal field, a subject has a use-value for another subject as well as the image of marital harmony is merely phantasmatic, a veil to hide unvocalized inter-subjective conflict. To explore both elements, we need to start resolving the riddle of Yuko’s desire for Noaki.
What attracts Yuko in Naoki is, in short, that he reveals what she radically lacks and cannot have – a certain distance from the Other. Naoki, by putting acting at the centre of his subjectivity, has found a way to evade the pressing expectations and the repetitive demands of the Other. Yuko’s success as a businesswoman, on the other hand, is due to her strict obeyance of what the corporate Other demands. In other words, it was by accepting her imprisonment within the Other that she was able to carve out a path of success for herself.
In this sense, we can argue that Yuko’s desire for Naoki is a desire to break the chains of this corporate Other – a desire that she does not aim to realize. Yet, this desire targets what Naoki represents rather than who he is as a subject. This aspect of desire foreshadows some of Yuko’s marital unhappiness and regret. While his spontaneous nature attracted her and led her to marry him, his refusal to accept the symbolic implications of the signifier husband and change his acts and signifiers in accordance to Yuko’s expectations – the expectation lingering in the societal Other, means that the marital bond is symbolically empty and non-existing in the imaginary. Naoki’s refusal underpins the couple’s failure to write a signified to their pact of signifiers (i.e. husband and wife). Naoki might give up his refusal and decide to commit himself to his symbolic position – i.e. husband, yet is that what Yuko truly wants from him (Narra-note 1)?
Besides highlighting the failure to establish a shared marital signified, Long-Term Coffee Break also reveals that such marital image of harmony often hides a yet unvocalized inter-subjective conflict. Former actor Shota (-) and his wife Makiko (Mayuko Fukuda) might look like a happy married couple – they just bought a house and a car, their struggle to conceive a child has subjective effect. One effect of this failure is Naoki finding his escape from this phallic pressure in the arms of a ‘sexually aggressive’ intern at his work (Narra-note 2).
Fujita’s composition has a nice rhythm and a pleasant visual feel. The rhythm of Long-Term Coffee Break is created by an effective use of the cut and by creating contrast between static and dynamic shots. The visual pleasure, for that matter, is dictated by the elegant use of depth-of-field and the natural colour-schemes.
Mina Fujii’s performance stands out in Long-Term Coffee Break – and the main reason why this short film works so well. With her layered and elegant performance, Fujii brings Yuko’s subjective discontent in a compelling manner to the fore.
Long-Term Coffee Break is a short-narrative that proves, once more, that a pleasant thematical depth can be attained within a limited running-time and that a short length can strengthen the impact of the narrative. Fuelled by great performances and a visually pleasant composition, Fujita confronts the spectator with the subjective weight of a symbolic commitment and the phantasmatic nature of marital harmony. In short, a very promising work by Naoya Fujita.
Narra-note 1: In a certain sense, Yuko has succeeded in organizing her own neurotic discontent.
Narra-note 2: The narrative also touches upon the fact that, when a marital affair becomes public, the subject that is generally blamed is the (unmarried) woman.