Every year, there are some graduation projects that are screened at international festivals. Last year, Kiriu Shogo received the honour to screen his philosophical sci-fi indie Journey at the Skip-City International D-Cinema Festival.
One day, during work, a colleague tells Keiji (Ryota Miyazaki), who gave up being an astronaut many years ago, about a new space development concerning the extraction and sending of consciousnesses. Around the same time, he learns that his father, who went to space when he was a child, has chosen to ‘conscientize’ (i.e. separate his consciousness from his body) himself to escape from the pain his mental problems caused him. He tells Shizuka (Kozue Ito), his mentally unstable wife, about what he learned about his father, unknowingly enflaming her unvocalized yearning for a consciousness-only existence.
Journey is a philosophical space sci-fi film that questions contemporary loneliness, relational malfunctioning, and the Other’s failure to create a space to work-through one’s subjective problems. In a certain way, Shogo imagines the radical finality of the current Japanese societal structure.
To approach the element of societal critique that underpins Journey, one needs to start from reading the dynamic between Keiji and ShizuSka. It should be evident that, due to the certain confronting event, the relation between Keiji and his wife has been fundamentally disrupted. While both are still able to exchange empty signifiers, their refusal to look each other in the eye stages their inability and, even, unwillingness to approach the traumatic chasm that has ruptured their relational bond. Moreover, any signifier from Shizuka that alludes to the disruptive event – I feel down, I only have nightmares, … – is crudely ignored by Keiji.
By remaining unvocalized, the traumatic moment keeps weighing on the atmosphere – the subjective impact of that moment is continually expressed to the other, yet Keiji chooses to avoid the confrontation necessary to try and mend his relationship. The main reason why he silences his wife is, in our view, because he is not ready to accept what the disruptive revelation implies concerning his masculinity.
The inability to address the other at the level of his subject is undoubtedly linked with the societal system that is evoked in the interview sequences that rhythmically pop up throughout the narrative. Shogo sketches out a societal system that does not merely mould the ego/consciousness into societal submission but also one that monitors the subject to ensure that he/she remains obedient to his/her duty to support the stability of this subtly persecutory Other. It is, in part, such oppressive a-subjective system that reduces the subject to the statute of a mere cog, a miniscule cycle waiting to be consumed.
To put it more clearly, the societal system depicted in Journey is one that empties out subjectivity, rather than creating a space for the subject to find his own signified, his own raison d’être in relation to another subject. It is the empty repetition of his daily life as well as hollowing impact of the traumatic event that persuades Keiji to apply for that mission. Yet, he merely wants to escape societal reality and the oppressive grasp of a set of societal rules that leaves no room for inter-subjectivity and is merely focused on maintaining its own depressive stability. Shizuka’s answer to the failure of the societal field to provide meaning and enable her to work-through the traumatic event might seem different at first glance, but the ultimate goal is the same: she wants to escape.
Journey confronts the spectator with the following question: Is consciousness, in contrast to the societal field, bound by any rules? In our psychoanalytic view, one that will only enhance the depressive tone of the narrative, consciousness can never escape the rules of language, can never escape the subjective imprint of the Other that allowed our consciousness as well as our unconsciousness to blossom. Both Keiji and Shizuka mistakenly believe that they can outrun their own neurosis. You can go wherever you want, you can never leave your emotional luggage behind. Their acts are merely vein attempts at annulling their pain of existence.
If the latter part of the narrative feels too evocative and puzzling for the spectator, he/she can simply hold on the two interlocking elements introduces in the first half of Journey: the desire to escape one’s subjective pain and impossibility to do so. By keeping both elements in mind, the forlorn nature of the atmosphere begins to evoke a certain signified, a depressive message concerning the finality of humanity when it has become unable to work-through subjective struggles by means of the therapeutic dynamic of introspective confrontation.
The composition of Journey mainly consists out of a concatenation of static shots with only sporadically a dynamic shot thrown into the mix. While such simplicity might have easily led to a kind of visual monotony, Shogo does not waste any opportunity to engage the spectator at the scopic level. He ensures the visual pleasure of the spectator by elegantly playing with geometrical tensions to create satisfying shot-compositions and by heightening the visual impact of certain compositional tensions by using his colour- and lightning design in an effective manner.
Shogo also proves that he understands that the visual field is embedded in the treasure cove of signifiers and that visual elements act as words that imply, by seeking connection with other visual elements, a certain signified. For instance, the relational distance between Keiji and Shizuka is, first and foremost, represented in the visual field – the separation within the composition (e.g. the sliding door that divides the living room and the bed room) as well as the darkish colours echo the emotional chasm that has emerged between them (Sound-note 1).
Journey is not a straight-forward sci-fi-narrative. Shogo offers an evocative and bleak experience that does not try to dazzle us with complex sci-fi twists and concepts, but forces us to question the current state of our societal field. What happens to us if no place of inter-subjective exchange is ensured? What will happen if the weight of the societal Other becomes to heavy to carry. Shogo offers his answers in a compelling way with his graduation product.
Sound-note 1: This emotional distance is also subtly echoed by the element of silence.