In Japan, Makoto Wada (1936-2019) is widely known as an illustrator and graphic designer. Yet, besides his work as an illustrator, Wada also explored other creative endeavours, like writing essays, creating animation, and directing movies. One of the films he directed and wrote is Kaito Ruby (1988), starring a young Hiroyuki Sanada and Kyoko Koizumi.
Toru Hayashi (Hiroyuki Sanada) is a young salaryman who still lives together with his mother (Kumi Mizuno). Yet, one day, his mundane life is altered by encounter a new tenant, the young and attractive girl named Kato Rumi (Kyōko Koizumi) or Ruby. Not that much later,Ruby tells Toru that she will try to make it as a professional thief. She asks him to become his partner-in-crime. The desiring Toru ends up granting her wish.
Kaito Ruby is a narrative marked by a repetition – a chapter-like repetition of failures and small successes. This repetition does not only heighten the light-heartedness of the narrative as it plays with the expectation of the audience, but also helps the spectator to grasp the relational dynamic between Toru and Ruby and feel, through the comedy of repetition, the very theme Kaito Ruby explores.
Wada’s narrative explores, in general terms, the impact of the sudden bursting forth of desire on the subject’s comportment. It is evident that Toru’s first encounter with Ruby ensnares his desire. Yet, what ensnares his desire is not simply the glance at her charming beauty, but also the fact that his existence is acknowledged by her. She seductively acknowledges his existence, for example, by asking him to check her mailbox and recognizes his desire by inviting him into the house and allowing him to keep the bikini-picture he stole from her.
We, as spectator, of course cannot shake the feeling that Ruby is merely utilizing her charming presence to keep Toru in a state of desiring and, by doing so, effectively persuade him into becoming her accomplice. Due to Ruby’s demand, Toru suddenly finds himself caught between his mother, who organizes the rhythm of his life, and Ruby, who charmingly persuades him to defy his (m)Other. The choice he needs to make – and this should be evident – is not a simple choice between Ruby or his mother, but between giving up his desire (Mother) or to pursue it (Ruby).
Whether he is deceived by her or not is, at first, not that important. What Kaito Ruby explores is an enflamed desire does not merely compel the subject to perform acts to attain a sign of the other’s love, but that it can also push a subject to transgress the law (Narra-note 1). Yet, sadly, as clumsy and dense as he is, some of Toru’s acts (e.g. observe the shop and the old man’s behaviour) fail to provide Ruby what she needs. While he performs acts to please her and provoke a sign of her love, he struggles to show her that he is a man worthy of her. Due to his stupid failures, their relation momentarily attains a colour of a parent/child dynamic. Toru, full of desire, tries to become the ideal image Ruby mirrors to him to secure her love while Ruby puts some effort to mould him into a well-enough accomplice (Narra-note 2).
As Toru let himself be persuaded to be Ruby’s accomplice in a series of crimes, an inner conflict bursts forth in his nightmares – he dreams of being apprehended or even put-to-death. His nightmares do not merely signal that his desire for Ruby is not in accordance with his Über-Ich but his fear of not being man enough or not having the phallus for Ruby (Narra-note 3).
Yet, what will happen when Toru finds out that he might be merely used by her – that she has a boyfriend? Will he back down and return to his mundane existence with his mother or will he continue to pursue his desire for the dangerously charming Ruby by trying to prove, through his devotion, that he is the man that she desires? Can he win Ruby’s heart or will he, deceived and broken, be thrown by her in the gutter?
The composition of Kaito Ruby utilizes static and dynamic shots to a great effect. By relying on fixity, for instance, Wada enables the light-heartedness of certain facial expressions, interactions between characters and situations to come to the fore and succeeds in putting the spectator in a good mood (Cine-note 1). Dynamic moments are fluidly integrated in the composition. Wada does not only please the spectator with visually pleasing tracking shots or engaging spatial movement, but also heightens the light-heartedness or the suspense within his narrative by thoughtfully playing with dynamism (Cine-note 2).
The composition is richly decorated with musical accompaniment. The music, fluidly shifting from light-hearted to romantic to more suspenseful, does not give the composition a pleasant rhythm but also elegantly dictates the mood of Kaito Ruby. Wada even finds time to throw a highly pleasant musical sequence into his narrative.
What makes all the pieces fit together, creating a highly pleasant experience, is the pitch-perfect performances of Hiroyuki Sanada and Kyoko Koizumi. Sanada brings the foolish side of his character to life with charming delight and Kyoko Koizumi succeeds, with her attractive and subtle seductive presence, in entrapping more than one desire.
Kaito Ruby might not offer anything radically new at the thematic level, but the expert play with repetition, at the level of the narrative as well as the visuals, and the charming performances elevate this narrative of phallic stupidity and desire’s subjective impact and turn it into one highly satisfying rom-com. Recommended.
Narra-note 1: It is only because he desires Ruby that she can persuade him to perform acts. Despite his inner conflict about transgressing the law, he decides to help her. Despite his embarrassment of not being able to ride a bike, he does his best to master it.
Narra-note 2: This truth of their dynamic is light-heartedly visualized in the sequence where Ruby teaches Toru how to ride a bicycle.
Narra-note 3: All dreams are, in a certain sense, dreams of being castrated, of being exposed as being castrated. The phallus is, as expected, represented within a dream as a gun.
Cine-note 1: By thoughtfully playing with the cut, Wada turns the contrast between Toru’s initial refusal to do what Ruby demands and his ultimate meek compliance into a pun that, due to its repetition, will not fail to put a smile on the spectator’s face.
Cine-note 1: Yet, it is not the dynamism as such that heightens the light-hearted of the scenes in question. Rather, it is the repetition of imagery, the repetition of the same dynamic shot, that creates the light-hearted effect.