The indie forum of OAFF is the place to be to discover new Japanese directorial talent. While various directors present their short-films, some directors, like Haruki Kinemura, present their first feature-length film.
One day, after skipping school, Mio (Suika Yamazaki) discovers that she is pregnant. The very same day, she visits her boyfriend, Nagisa (Taishi) to tell him about it. Yet, she fails. A few days later, Mio visits the hospital. The doctor confirms her pregnancy and informs her about abortion. She tells her that if she chooses to abort, the earlier the better it is for her body. And then, while putting away Mio’s clothes in her room, her mother finds the pregnancy test box.
Cafune is a narrative that, in a very sensitive manner, explores the different ways subjects react to the event of an unexpected pregnancy. Kinemura’s narrative beautifully traces out how such sudden truth ripples relational structures – be it romantic or parental – and even threatens to break them.
Mio struggles to formulate her physical change into signifiers to the o/Other. Yet, her failure to tell Nagisa about her pregnancy should not be read as a stumble that protects him but as a silence that allows her to escape as subject. By failing to put the truth of her pregnancy into signifiers and echo it into the societal space, she disallows her physical state its symbolic weight and its chance to impact the other subject and her relationship with him. Mio safeguards, in a certain sense, the already effaced relational ‘harmony’ with Nagisa.
However, the silence that follows the question of her friend Natsumi (Isana Matsumoto) is of a different order. While Mio undoes the silence that is pregnant of her physical truth with respect to Nagisa, her prolonged silence with respect to Natsumi – a silence not short-circuited by a lie, betrays that what she struggles to put into signifiers.
To grasp the way Nagisa react to the news of Mio’s pregnancy, we need to highlight the dream he tall Mio about in the beginning of the narrative. His dream of being a fish in the ocean – I felt so free – should be understood as a simple infantile dream. The birth of his dream is, we can safely assume, nothing other than the pressure he feels from the societal Other (e.g. to pass his mock-exam). Yet, despite his dream satisfying his wish to escape the weight the Other is putting on his shoulders, he seemingly understands that gaining freedom is radically alienating – I want to be me, even if it costs my freedom.
When Mio finally tells Nagisa about her pregnancy – something that became possible because her truth has already become shared, she is met with a response full of avoidance. Nagisa’s reliance on the signifier ‘responsibility’ is not so much to express their inability to care for the child, but to underline his unwillingness. In a certain sense, he tells her that he is too young to carry the consequence of his sexual pleasure and that he, with respect to his life and fatherhood, does want to remain a fish that can freely swim in the ocean.
Mio’s mother, in this respect, confronts Mio with another signifier: future. This signifier, vocalized within the wave of signifiers that crash on her, is a signifier of the Other. In this encounter, Mio’s mother fleetingly effaces her daughter’s subjectivity in order to confront her with the conflicting expectations of the societal Other – Think of your future vs you’re the only mother of this child. The lack of space or silence the mother grants Mio for her signifiers results in her running away.
The signifiers of the others (Nagisa, Mio’s mother, … ) on her pregnancy confuse and disorient her. Yet, what will she ultimately decide? What does she, as subject, want? Who can aid her in deciding the direction of her own future? Can it be Nagisa? Can he give up a part of his freedom to take up the responsibility of fatherhood?
Kinemura’s composition is simply wonderful. His thoughtful concatenation of slow-moving dynamism and static shots gives his narrative a pleasant and engaging rhythm, but his reliance on long takes offers the spectator a glance at the sea-side beauty of Mie prefecture and enables him to gently follow the ebb and flow of the speech-interactions and discern the emotions that subtly escape via bodily movements and facial expressions (Cine-note 1).
What elevates Kinemura’s thoughtful composition – what allows it to charm and engage the spectator, is the lighting- and colour-design. The softness of the colours as well as the incidence of light allows the natural beauty of Mie to come to its full right and enhances the emotionality of the interactions between our youthful characters.
Cafune is a very strong debut by Haruki Kinemura. He does not merely present an engaging narrative, but elevates it by giving his composition a slow rhythm that allows him to show the sea-side beauty of Mie, but also grants the cast the space and time to breathe life into the relational ripples caused by Mio’s pregnancy.
Cine-note 1: Kinemura also utilizes shaky framing to echo, whenever it is necessary, the emotional impact of certain events on the subject – e.g. Mio looking at the positive pregnancy test.