Still the water and the function of speech


In this rather short article I wanted to talk about how my critique of Still the water can illustrate an important aspect of psychoanalysis. In this way I want to underline why I think Naomi Kawase’s Still the water is not (or fails to be) a cinematographically narrative concerning romance. In other words, if Naomi Kawase’s goal was to present the viewer with a story about a beginning romance, the staging of one particular character, Kaito, problematizes the realization of this intention.

Kaito and Kyoko

Before delving into the more theoretical part of this little text, we’ll reintroduce the staging of Kaito which is, in as far as romance is concerned, problematic. In the review we introduced two levels of obvious interrelated differences between Kaito and Kyoko. The first level concerned speech – the lack of subjective implication (Kaito), while the second concerned silence – the lack of a communicative function apart of underlining emotional distance (Kaito). Those differences led to a fundamental difference in emotional presence of both characters in the narrative.

To give some examples of this emotional difference/distance concerning speech, we’ll quote our review.

“The first kissing scene and the following scene where Kyoko expresses her love for Kaito are the prime illustration of this difference. In both scenes the viewer feels Kyoko’s desire that comes with the initiative (kissing him and telling him she loves him) she takes towards Kaito and the response she eventually gets from him. This in sharp contrast with Kaito, whose ‘I love you’ – Kyoko forces him to utter it – is not invested by any subjective feeling or desire towards her whatsoever; his ‘I love you’ feels as an empty gesture. Other scenes that highlight this emotional difference are the scene of killing the goat or the third bicycle scene which shows Kaito’s impossibility to answer Kyoko’s emotional needs (Van Haecke, 07/02/2015)”.

All these examples lead to the following question: in what way does Kaito’s speech misses effect? A question that is none other than the question where Kaito’s subject (in the narrative) is.

Kaito’s subjectはどこですか。Where is the Kaito’s subject?

The above mentioned question, where is the subject in speech, is relevant for psychoanalytical therapy, because it is one of the most fundamental questions one needs to pose in therapy. Patients may talk on and on and on… but in the end say absolutely nothing. They may give you a “lecture” on their personal history, but without being subjectively present in that history.

Kaito in this respect is such person, a person who says nothing and who is not present in his words. We would even dare to say Kaito is staged as being out of touch with his own subject(ivity). To explain this clearer we’ll need to introduce one figure (the basis level of the Graphe du desir, see below) and two theoretical concepts and: the subject of enunciation and the subject of the statement.20040525162001_graphedesir01

The subject of the statement/the subject of the utterance is nothing other than what is psychoanalytically called the ego, the I in the day-to-day discourse.  The ego or the subject of the statement is thus as what appears to itself and to the other “for example, (…) someone who believes herself to be a diligent student (…) it pertains to the subject objectified in a statement – the subject with determinable content (Van Haute, 2002, p. 39-40)”. In other words the subject of the statement concerns the content of that what is being said. In the figure the subject of the statement is to be situated at the barred S.

The subject of the enunciation is not the same as the subject of the statement, the I, the ego that produces discourse. It is the subject (of the unconscious) as it is produced by discourse (Lacan, 2008). In this way Lacan reveals the fact that the subject of the statement is not quite the agent of what is being said, but is to be found in those signifiers that evoke meaning exceeding the formal meaning of the statement. So one way to find the subject of the enunciation is in the stylistic aspects of the statement; the non-content elements are often those elements that are most communicative of subjectivity. The subject of the enunciation is to be situated at the triangular symbol.

Returning to the staging of Kaito’s character we could thus say that there’s a very sensible distance – see the distance between the barred S and the triangular symbol in the figure – between Kaito’s statements, which uncovers his ego, and what could be his subject of enunciation. In very crude terms, we could say that Kaito’s subject of enunciation is almost entirely lacking from the narrative, thus presenting us with empty sentences, sentences that do not in any way produce his subject. The above mentioned examples are more than sufficient in underlining Kaito’s empty speech.

In psychoanalytic therapy it’s important to try closing the distance/gap between the subject of the statement and the subject of the enunciation, thereby swapping empty speech for more fuller speech. As the subject of the statement and the subject of enunciation can never coincide  – as knowledge and truth can never coincide – it is only the touching of both that produces speech that touches the body, speech with subjective effect, speech that is formative for the subject – formative here means that the subject isformed at that moment of enunciation.

Conclusion: Kaito’s subject はそこでです。 Kaito’s subject is there.

This brings us to the following concluding questions: is there a moment in Kawase’s narrative where the subject of enunciation and the subject of the statement touch each other, thereby forming his subject at that very moment; is there a moment where Kaito’s speech transcends the emptiness?

As a matter of fact, there is one moment in the narrative that stages such formative speech. This utterance is featured in Kaito’s formative conclusion. In our review we underlined that this conclusion lacked power and thus failed to underscore the immense importance of that enunciation and the subjective effects it had for Kaito’s subject. Nevertheless the moment that Kaito’s screams: “I have to protect her” towards his mother, is the moment by which he finally comes into being as a subject. By this utterance he can take his place as a subject in the narrative, as is shown by the effects this utterance has on his inhibition and impossibility of making a choice. It’s only because of this formative utterance, that the romance between Kaito and Kyoko is able to begin. In other words the function of speech in Still the Water underlines that the narrative is not about a beginning romance but about the realization of the conditions of possibility of any romance whatsoever.


Lacan, J. (2008). My Teaching. (Translated by David Macey). Verso:London.

Van Haute, P. (2002). Against adaptation. Lacans subversion of the subject. Other press: New York.

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