There are many indie directors in Japan at work that work hard to attract the attention of the public. One of these directors is Mikiya Sanada, who in 2018 decided to utilize all the experience he has gained by making short-films to create his first feature film. The result was Dream of Euglena.
After leaving the tea-room where he successfully proposed to his beloved Yukiko (-), Kenji (-) finds two parking wardens, Makoto Miyazawa (Takuya Fuji) and Shige (Hiroki Harikawa), around his illegally parked sportscar. He tries to reason with them to let him off the hook, but the two part-timers resembling Euglena’s remain steadfast in their choice to strictly apply the parking rules. The same day, Makoto, who is single and still lives with his mother, invites Shige to do Shinjuku’s nightshift together. Shige reluctantly agrees.
In an illegally parked car, somewhere in Shinjuku, Miu Mochizuki (Yoshino Imamura), who dreams to make it as an idol, and her manager Yaegashi (Tomoharu Hasegawa) are waiting till its time for Miu to further her career by offering her body to Yabana (Masahiro Toda), a yakuza with some influence in the media world. Of course, Yabana parks his car illegally, but when Makoto recognizes him as his former bully he runs away from his duty.
Sho, a musician (Kazuna Sano), who finally decided to give up his dream, decides to return to his hometown. Much to his surprise, Satchie (Nahoko Yoshimoto), a married woman whom he occasionally has sex with, awaits him at the Shinjuku bus terminal. In the park, Kasukabe (Shiiko Utagawa), a colleague of Satchie, sees her kissing the musician.
Dream of Euglena is a comedy of the coincidental encounter as spurred on by fears, dreams and desires. In the opening half an hour, when the main characters are introduced to the spectator, Sanada elegantly utilizes the repetition of the signifier to hint that many of his characters have a hitherto unspecified connection. These narrative hints, which appear fluidly in the conversational flow prepare the spectator for the comical twists to come – Sanada creates certain expectations and subvert them in a surprising light-hearted way.
Of course, a comedy that relies on the logic of accidental encounters to develop its narrative often ends up celebrating the importance of such brief meetings for the subject. Dream of Euglena is no different. The myriad of night-time encounters will leave no subject unchanged. Either the exchange of signifiers enables the subject to find a new sense to structure their acts and signifiers or such words, by reverberating with the subject, allows him/her to maintain their desire and keep it as their subjective compass.
Sanada’s narrative is full of moments of situational light-heartedness. What makes these moments so enjoyable and effective in putting a smile on the spectator’s face is his reliance on mundane occurrences (e.g. the sound of traffic drowning out someone’s speech) and the effective modulation of these occurrences with the comical device of repetition.
Event though we can analyse every character that shows up in the narrative, we will limit ourselves to explore the two characters that form the backbone of the narrative, Makoto and Shige. Makoto is very strict in following the parking rules – a violation is a violation, no excuses. No kind of verbal harassment can change his mind. In our view, it is because Makoto feels supported by and finds order in the clear-cut rules of parking that he can function so well in this position (Narra-note 1). For him, the rules structure his subjective logic, which allows him to avoid becoming injured by the violators’ signifiers.
The relationship between Shige, who generally follows Makoto’s strict orders and robotically delivered signifiers, and the parking rules is more loose – his subjective logic does not depend on it. As a result, he is not averse to exploiting his position as a parking warden to attain some benefits – either sexual or financial. His dedication to uphold the traffic law can be manipulated by bribery and the bursting forth of his sexual thirst can, at any time, pervert his application of the traffic rules. For example, early in the narrative, Shige proposes to pay her for a night of sex to ‘help’ a big-chested woman to ‘avoid’ her fine.
It is, thus, a given that Makoto, who acts in strict accordance with the traffic law, and Shige, who can more easily be manipulated by the sexual image of the female Other and the regretful but mendacious signifiers of the traffic violator, will clash.
Mikiya Sanada’s composition offers a nice blend of static and dynamic moments. While many directors would merely mix things up for the sake of variety – and thus create a simple serviceable composition, Sanada is more thoughtful about framing a certain scene with dynamic shots or static shots. Dynamism is, within his composition, mainly utilized to support the emotional texture of certain scenes, the subjective tremble that interpersonal conflict causes. For example, to visually support the anger and desperate pleas of those who (knowingly) violated the parking rules, Sanada usually relies on shaky dynamic shots. Yet, whenever he wants to emphasize the ‘kind’ signifiers the violator spouts to convince the parking wardens to retract the fine, he resorts to static framing. However, what both approaches of framing – the dynamic emotional one or the static logical one – above all highlight is the immovability of Makoto – his given fine is final.
Dream of Euglena is a truly pleasant comical narrative. Mikiya Sanada has not only created a narrative structure with many surprising twists, but can also rely on a cast that breathes life in the comical situations and the strengthen the heart-warming exploration of the importance of finding a dream/desire to give’s one conduct and speech its socially constructive direction.
Narra-note 1: The narrative also introduces a more personal reason for Makoto’s choice of occupation.
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