Can you make a great sci-fi narrative with little to no money? Many have tried but failed, due to their inability to satisfactorily resolve the tension between one’s artistic vision and limits imposed by the budget on one’s creative expression. Some succeed, either by constructing their narrative with the budgetary limits in mind or by creatively escaping the limits put on expression. The latest director that succeeds in delivering a satisfying indie sci-fi narrative is Daiki Kobayashi.
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Shunsaku (Chihisa Kato) is a psychic who works for a corporation that does odd jobs here and there. Yet, because of his lack of ability, he struggles to receive good-paying jobs. One day, he receives another low-paying task: he needs to do a preliminary investigation of Kosuke Doeda (Yusuke Takahashi), a visually impaired psychogenic.
Later, while complaining on the phone about the low payment, a bullied high schooler named Tasuku (Yuma Akimoto) overhears him. Shunsaku tries to erase his memory, but fails, hereby realizing that he is dealing with another psychic. After a discussing at headquarters about paying him off – to buy his silence – Shunsaku decides to take him under his wings.
Blue Collar Physics is a sci-fi dramedy that does not only explores the importance of amical social bond, but also shows the diverse way in which the Other can negatively impact the subject.
The first way the Other can mark the subject is evoked through the task – i.e. to find the very trigger that might undo the blindness of Kosuke Doeda, that sets the narrative in motion. This task, once reformulated as a question, subtly pinpoints the presence of an Other within his subjective experience. What does Kosuke refuse to see? What traumatic sight led him to escape into hysterical blindness? The answer to this question is, as can be expected, intrinsically linked to the impact the restoration of sight will have on his subject. Will he succumb to the trauma that he hysterically escaped or will he be able to face whatever element of Otherly desire is represented in the past blinding event?
The second manner by which the Other can scar the subject is highlighting by Tasuku’s difficulty of looking people in the eye. While he argues that the many emotions that coil around in the eyes scare him, does Blue Collar Physics not subtle underline that what he tries to evade is the societal Other that lingering within the others’ eyes – the societal expectations and violent bullying demands he fails to answer satisfactorily. Is it not this ongoing threat, as carried by the eyes of society, that underpins his firm demand to join Shunsaku and Kaede (Kirara Okano)? Is he not in search for a place of belonging?
All the while, Shunsaku is struggling with the limited nature of his powers and the breadcrumbs he is given by Endo, his boss. Formulated differently, he cannot avoid the confrontation with an Other, as embodied by Endo and reverberated by his more capable colleagues, that tells him that he is not good enough. Can he, when he learns that the more gifted Takamatsu will complete the mission he worked on, just let it happen? Or will he, to make the most of his slowly diminishing powers, take matters in his own hands?
The composition of Blue Collar Physics offers a balanced mix of static shots and dynamic shots. While Kobayashi’s composition is pretty straightforward, he elevates it by littering it with many finely composed shots. He does not only make great use of the geometrical dimension, but he utilizes it in such elegant way that the shot-compositions do not feel art-ificial. The beautifully composed moments within Kobayashi’s composition do not feel forced, but deliver scopic pleasure that fluidly fits within the visual flow. The spectator’s visual pleasure is further heightened by the natural colour- and lighting-design.
Blue Collar Physics is a very pleasant sci-fi narrative. Kobayashi proves that one does not necessarily need fancy visual tricks and bombastic fighting sequences to impress the spectator. Rather, he shows that the narrative element of the super-power can be used to explore human subjectivity and to highlight the often antagonistic link between the subject and his Other.