Even though Isao Yukisada’s oeuvre is quite extensive, many spectators would still consider Go (2001), one of his earlier movies, to be the best narrative he delivered. Yukisada’s adaptation of Kazuki Kaneshiro’s novel of the same title had a good festival run when it was released more then twenty years ago and now, with Third Window’s Films Blu-ray release, a whole new generation is able to fall in love with Yukisada’s energetic romance narrative.
Sugihara (Yosuke Kubozuka) is a third-generation Japanese-Korean or, as the Japanese call him, a Zianichi. His mother (Shinobu Otake) struggles to grant him his own agency and his father (Tsutomu Yamazaki) answers generally with violence. Yet, not long after his father turns into a south-Korean to fulfill his wish to go Hawaii – the symbol of corrupt capitalism, his father invites him to think about his future.
Not that much later, some time before his graduation at the North-Korean Junior High school, Sugihara decides to become a South-Korean and attend a Japanese high-school. After beating up the bullies at his basketball club, he starts getting challenged to fights by others. Due to one such challenge, he somehow makes his first friend, Kato (Mitsu Murata), the only son of a local yakuza gang. At his birthday party, Sugihara meets Sakurai (Kou Shibasaki).
Yukisada’s Go is a romance narrative that traces out how fictions of nationality shape the societal field and mark the subjects that wander within it. The narrative illustrates the presence of a whole imaginary field, as supported by monocultural signifiers, that sows seeds of hate and prejudice and subtly turns subjects against each other. It is, as a matter of fact, the subtle veneration of the monocultural and ethnocentric fantasy within Japanese society that underpins the birth of many subjective tragedies.
It is evident, right from the start of the narrative, that Sugihara and his friends are caught within a societal system that spits them out – e.g. the police treats them as societal garbage, the use of the signifier zainichi as such, and cannot accept any form of Otherness. society. It is the unavoidability of this Other – Sugihara is subjected to it, within his Japanese school as well as on the streets – that causes feelings of a futureless existence and fuels their delinquent reflex. Their violence is, thus, not merely an expression of frustration, but also a vain and contradictory attempt at keeping this enjoying monocultural Other at bay and to deflate its persecutory hunger for enjoyment.
However, one cannot read their delinquent violence as an attempt at securing a space for one’s own subjectivity as our characters have, consciously or unconsciously, fully identified themselves with the object-of-societal-trash – in a certain sense, they embody the position of societal trash via their surges of violence. Within this Other, they have no (right to) desire, there is only subjective emptiness. The only thing our subjects can do is avoid succumbing to the enjoyment of the monocultural Other through violence (e.g. the bullying Sugihara is subjected to at the basketball club, … etc.). This place of non-belonging is, moreover, imposed by the North-Korean educational system that celebrates communism and societal servitude and reviles the capitalism that has poisoned the Japanese societal field (Narra-note 1).
It should not take the spectator that long to realize that the concatenation of face-offs Sugihara has at his Japanese school follow a different dynamic. Rather than being targeted by the Other for having no place/name within the monocultural Other, he is sought out for the name he has made in the high-school societal fabric by beating up the members of the basketball.
The imaginary interactions between Sugihara and Sakurai – imaginary in the sense that they revolve around sharing pleasure, give him a certain place within the societal field, as underlined by the lack of violence and the absence of the persecutory side of the societal Other. This bond is not held together by a shared position of being societal trash in the eyes of society, but by moments of pleasure that fleetingly animate the empty subjective position that results from being subjected to a deprecating societal Other. Yet, can Sakurai, who is evidently marked by this viscous monocultural Other, reach beyond the Japanese monocultural image imposed on him by her as mediated by the Japanese societal field and accept Sugihara for who he as subject is rather than what he seemingly represents?
Yukisada’s composition stands out due to its dynamism and its energy. Both elements are function of the director’s reliance on visual decorations (e.g. e.g. jump-cuts, stop-motion-like effects, slow-motion, fast-forward, …) to stage his narrative. Yet, while some directors, would have created a compositional mess – a mish-mash of decorations that ultimately pulls the narrative apart, Yukisada’s way of integrating such decorations does not only create a fluid whole, but also succeeds in echoing the youthful energy of the narrative’s main character as well as tracing out his logic for the spectator. Therefore, later in the narrative, when the composition loses its wildness and its energy it mirrors Sugihara’s subjective changes.
At certain times, Yukisada’s composition even attains a powerful poetic effect. These poetic moments are not only function of the rhythmical nature of the signifier, but also by how this rhythm is visually decorated. One could even argue that what makes these poetic moments so powerful – and this effective in pulling the spectator into the narrative, is the fluid rhyming between the supportive visual decorations and the vocalized signifiers as such. In some cases, the rhythmicality or the poetic effect is not so much due to the signifiers that accompany a given scene but the musical accompaniment that decorates it.
Yukisada’s Go is a must-see, not only for its elegant composition, but for the societal truth it powerfully sketches out. While Go, at first glance, appears to be a simple romance narrative, it is an exquisite structured exploration of how fictions of nationality fracture and shape they societal field as well as the subjects subject to it and the relational dynamics they establish.
Narra-note 1: Within such dictatorial communistic system, there is little to no place for a subjective desire either. One merely needs to alienate oneself and become the tool – the hammer or the sickle – of the communistic system.
Narra-note 2: Of course, we should not underestimate the impact Sugihara’s friendship with Jong-il (Takato Hosoyamada) has on his subject and the pacification of his frustration.