Some directors succeed in getting their feature films selected for the same festival. While this might not seem like a great feat, it nevertheless attests to the perceived quality of the submitted filmic products. Yuho Ishibashi is such director, who after presenting her debut feature “Sayounara” (2018) at the OAFF festival, returns with When morning comes, I feel empty (2023). Her return has been highly successful as the film received the highly coveted Japan Cuts Award.
Unbeknownst to her parents, 24-year-old Nozomi Iizuka (Erika Karata) has quit her job at the sales department of an ad agencyto work part-time at a Yamazaki convenience store. While she is surrounded by kind co-workers, the inability to tell her parents about her current situation and the subjective weight of her failure to meet the demands of her seniors at her previous workplace keep troubling her. One day, one of her former junior high school classmate Kanako (Haruka Imou) approaches her while she’s doing the nightshift at the convenience store.
When Morning Comes, I Feel Empty is a peaceful narrative that illustrates how the act of speaking can radically change the presence of the subject within the societal field. The repetitive imagery to frame Nozomi’s daily rhythm serves no other purpose than to highlight the subjective impact of addressing a signifier to the Other and the way the Other’s answer can aid in deflating the subjective obstruction of desire and dreams.
Given our use of the signifier Other, it should not come as a surprise that Nozomi’s struggle is with the societal Other or, more precisely, the weight of the expectations that fill the societal field she moves around in. Her quitting her job at the ad agency is nothing other than a flight from her inability to please this corporate Other, from the lack the corporate Other confronts her with. That she fails to tell the parental Other about her escape from this unbearable situation is simply because she wishes to avoid the societal Other that echoes within the signifiers of her mother (Narra-note 1). Yet, while the societal Other speaks through the mother, will she embody it when she hears the hidden truth of her daughter? Is her fear of hearing the Other through her mother justified?
The signifiers – It’s tough being a Shakaijn (member of society) – uttered by Moriguchi (Kazuma Ishibashi), one of Nozomi’s colleagues, imply underline that the position of the part-time worker is not considered a respectable position by the Japanese Other (Narra-note 2). In fact, it is a position is one where one can hold on to the societal field, making sure one can foot the bills, without falling prey to the demands of the Other.
Yet, this struggle with the Other is exacerbated by a different kind of lack, a lack of desire. Nozomi’s position as well as her daily rhythm marked by empty repetition beautifully show that what complicates the subject’s movement within the societal field is such lack. Without a certain desire, the subject’s acts and signifiers lack direction. Luckily, Nozomi’s mundane rhythm is repeatedly disturbed by the sudden appearance of Kanako and the unexpected events that happen to her colleagues. Can she find in Nozomi an address to share her experiences (e.g. overtime, power harassment, …etc.) at the company and, possibly, find the courage to formulate her struggle to the (m)Other and deflate her bubbling discontent?
The composition of When morning comes, I feel empty combines static and deliberate tracking moving shots to create a pleasant and engaging rhythm. This visual rhythm allows serene moments of mundane beauty to be created within the narrative – moments that are often decorated with simple elegant piano-pieces, as well as moments of interpersonal tension or subjective conflict to be staged in a sensible way. More specifically, by relying on lengthy static shots to frame speech-interactions, Ishibashi does not merely grants his cast the time to breathe life into the spatial presence of their characters but enables the element of silence to emphasize the reverberations of vocalized signifiers. The softness that marks the natural lightning and colour-design further heightens the visual pleasure of Ishibashi’s narrative.
Erika Karata steals the show. She does not only charm the spectator with her presence, but adds nuance to her performance. This subtle nuance allows her to breathe life into the impact of the vocalized signifier and elevate the impact of the narrative’s finale.
When Morning Comes, I Feel Empty is a slow moving narrative that accumulates in a subtle but touching shift in the subjective position of its protagonist. With a refined sense of nuance, Yuho Ishibashi confronts the spectator with the very difficulty the subject faces when addressing his Other, but also highlights the very importance of addressing this Other to undo one’s subjective blockage and to allow oneself to combat one’s emptiness. Recommended.
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Narra-note 1: While Nozomi’s mother’s statement ‘Sanae’s family just had a baby’ seem innocent at first glance, these signifiers subtly echo the expectation that woman should get married and become a mother. For Nozomi, such statement emphasizes the lack she is with respect to the Japanese Other.
Narra-note 2: In many cases, part-time jobs are done by students, mothers who want some extra money, or foreign students.