Short movie time: Norioka Workshop (2022) review


Katsuhito Ishii is a celebrated director among Japanese cinephiles and international festival goers, yet his eccentric and creative style has remained largely unnoticed by the larger cinema-loving public. Yet, Third Windows Films is trying to change that by releasing the Katsuhito Ishii Collection, a 3-disc digipack Blu-ray set that contains six films, Promise of August (1995), Shark Skin Man & Peach Hip Girl (1998), Party 7 (2000), Sorasoi (2008), Hello Junichi (2014) and Norioka Workshop (2022).

Third Windows Films


One day, Tatsuo Norioka (Ryu Morioka) receives a phone call from director Hori asking him to play a conman in his next film. While Norioka is more than willing to fulfill Hori’s request, he cannot attend join today’s shooting as he has an actor’s workshop planned. When the doorbell rings, he is more than happy to welcome Nami (Yuka Harada) and Mari (Saki Taniuchi), two young beautiful girls.

Norioka Workshop (2022) by Katsuhito Ishii

Norioka Workshop can best be understood as a comedy of the deceptive nature of the social face, of the phallic ego as an outwards projection to the other. The formal kindness Norioka expresses to end his phone call with Hori is followed by a snarky comment that the director talks too much. Mari disturbs the image of Norioka’s success and ability as actor – an image supported by his fancy house – and the imaginary harmony with her frank comments, e.g. But only two students came. Eventually, our girls also confront, in a rather violent way, Norioka with his too-casual tone towards them. Despite Mari and Nami being strangers, he addresses them without honorific titles (Narra-note 1).   

In fact, the repetitive nature of Mari’s crude comments allows the spectator to grasp how frail the imaginary relational dynamic truly is as well as understand that two subjects are needed to support this mendacious field. The function of the imaginary within social interactions is nothing other than the establishment of a mirror-palace that enables subjects to satisfy the thirst of their ego, i.e. the deceptive image they have of themselves, but are not. If Ishii tells us something with his short film is it nothing other than the fact that every subject is, at the imaginary level, a conman (Narra-note 2). Yet – and this should be evident – the address of his swindle is not the other as such, but the subject him/herself.

Norioka Workshop (2022) by Katsuhito Ishii

As the subject wants to feel desired by the other, he projects a phallic image to the other to ensnare the other’s desire. Yet, the thirst to feed one’s fantasy of desire makes it easier for the subject to become swindled by the other’s empty seductive signifiers. The subject listens with his unfulfilled fantasy and desire and refuses to hear the signs of deception – at the level of his fantasy, he wants to be deceived.   

While Nami does her best to maintain this mirror-dynamic, responding to Norioka’s signifiers in such a way that his ego feels validated, Mari’s remarks radically aim to crack the mirror-dynamic. Luckily, before the truth (i.e. he is but a middling actor) can fully escape the cracks within the mirror, Norioka and Nami erase the damage with signifiers and re-establish the imaginary harmony. Yet, how long can they keep this up? How long can they protect the frail phallic ego-image of Norioka?  

Ishii brings his narrative alive with a well-though-out composition. The dynamism supports the emotional flow of the narrative and the thoughtful use of the cut puts the emphasis on the performances of the cast as such. Ishii also diminishes the need for cutting by resorting to the split-screen technique. This compositional choice allows the spectator to focus more directly on the relational dynamic on display and follow the rhythm of exchanged signifiers and facial reactions more closely.


Norioka Workshop (2022) by Katsuhito Ishii

Musical accompaniment is used to emphasize the light-hearted nature of the narrative and support the emotional flow of the narrative. In fact, by infusing a bit more drama into the narrative, Ishii does not only succeed in heightening the impact of the emotions on display, but also enhances the light-hearted exploration of the theme of deception.  The light-hearted nature of Norioka Workshop is furthermore highlighted by the playful use of sounds (e.g. ice crackling in a whiskey glass, miaowing of a cat, …etc.) to decorate Norioka’s instructions and acting-examples.

Norioka Workshop is a great short film that illustrates the necessity as well as the inherent danger of the imaginary dimension in social interactions. Ishi does not only show how mendacious this field is – every subject is a conman, but also how the subject needs this field to stabilize his deceptive ego – every one has to con himself.

(No trailer available)


Narra-note 1: If Norioka avoid using honorifics, it is merely to increase the feeling of closeness between him and these two beautiful ladies. His workshop also quickly turns into a performance to impress them.

Narra-note 2: Norioka Workshop also illustrates another effect of the imaginary on social interactions. Because of the irreducible presence of the imaginary, it can be quite difficult to distinguish between empty deception and true symbolic speech.   


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