The filmmaking program at the Waseda University’s Department of Intermedia Art and Science, led by Hirokazu Kore-eda and Makoto Shinozaki, proves to be a fertile ground for new talent to blossom. The latest talent to shine is Airi Yamaguchi. In her short-narrative, she reworks one of her childhood fears into a touching narrative about the importance of showing your Otherness.
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One day, on her way to her first day at high-school, Rin Ishimatsu (Moka) sees a kitten on the side of the road. Yet, before she can approach it, the nimble kitten is suddenly gone. Some time later, when walking home together with Rei Watanabe (Naoki Inukai), her fellow library assistant, she spots the kitten again. Out of the blue, Rei asks how would an injured cat feel is she offered it help. His words startle her.
Kitten touches upon the invisible longing to belong that marks the subject – and especially the adolescent subject. The sole reason why Rin quickly hides her home-made bento when two classmates invite her to buy lunch is the lingering pre-conscious belief that only by accepting their invitation and, thus, aspire sameness that she can become agreeable to the other, to her semblable.
Yet, the internal push to become similar to the other and allow the other to dictate the social shape of one’s ego comes at a prize: a form of subjective alienation. To be able to bend herself to the desire of the Other, Rin Ishimatsu, purposefully, hides her love of books and reading. In other words, Rin installs a malleable ego to satisfy her need to belong and to be loved but, in doing so, radically forbids her subject to fuel any of her signifiers.
Rei Watanabe confronts her with the image that she does not wish to be, but desires to be. This statement might sound strange to some, but it allows us to emphasize the difference between the imaginary wish and the symbolic desire. While Rin Ishimatsu wishes to be like the other and be loved by being similar to the other, she fundamentally desires to be loved for the Otherness she is. The desire to show her subject to the Other is the very reason why each sight of Rei brings her to a halt. This bodily pause stages her subjective conflict and fleetingly echoes the obstacle she is not ready to overcome. Can she find a way to overcome her inner inhibition and reveal some of her subjectivity to the other?
The composition of Kitten is quite dynamic. Yet, this peaceful dynamism is not simply function of Airi Yamaguchi’s reliance on camera movement, but also of the elegant way of using dynamism to guide the spectator’s attention and develop the narrative. Static pauses, for instance, are used to emphasize important narrative elements (e.g. the book she leaves at home and her first encounter with the kitten) and tracking movement is, in some cases, ‘statically’ focused on Moka’s facial expression to allow her to evoke the unvocalized emotion that writes itself on Rin Ishimatsu’s face.
Kitten is a splendid short by Airi Yamaguchi. While her short might be simple in narrative structure, she proves her ability of playing with limited narrative elements to give her story a certain thematical depth. Kitten elegantly underlines the importance of showing one’s Otherness to the other and the problematic nature of succumbing to the seduction of deceiving oneself by reflecting sameness to the other.