Can you be so haunted that you eventually become a ghost? The protagonist of Jun Tanaka’s Bamy (バーミー) sees lonely spirits everywhere but they don’t frighten him, in the expected sense at least, so much as act as supernatural jailers lurking just out of sight ready to remind you that there is no escape from their all seeing eyes. Which is to say, he begins to find them irritating especially as he feels himself pulled along by the unstoppable forces of “the expected” without being entirely sure “the expected” is what he really wants. Perhaps Ryota (Hironobu Yukinaga) is just another commitment-phobe getting cold feet before a wedding and looking for an excuse to find out if the grass is greener with someone else, but then again perhaps there are forces operating beyond our understanding, be they good or ill.
Our pair of lovers are brought together by the sudden and unexpected arrival of a bright red umbrella falling impossibly from on high. As their eyes meet across the incongruous sight, Fumiko (Hiromi Nakazato) recognises the man on the opposite side as Ryota – an old friend from her university days. Fast forward one year from this atypical meet cute and Fumiko and Ryota are moving in together with a wedding date already in place. The red umbrella hangs proudly on their balcony as a romantic tribute to their love but at odd times it seems to glow ominously, as if emanating a sense of inescapable unease. The couple’s happiness is ruptured when Ryota spots the first of his ghosts lurking in the bedroom. Before long he’s seeing them at work, in the streets, everywhere. He’s seen them all his life and though they do not frighten him, he is sick of their constant presence. Gradually the ghosts place a wedge between himself and Fumiko as he begins to neglect the wedding preparations before running into another woman, Sae (Misaki Tsuge), experiencing the same problem who might be better placed to understand what he’s going through.
The ability to see ghosts, it has to be said, is not an especially good excuse for neglecting one’s fiancée. Ryota, who seems to have forgotten there are many other words in the Japanese language besides the one which means “sorry”, does not appear to be a very good communicator and never thinks of confiding in Fumiko about what it is that is bothering him, nor does he ever try to communicate with the ghosts who perhaps are just looking for attention. In fact, Ryota never seems to take much of an active role in anything and almost “haunts” his own life, remaining isolated on the fringes, drifting along aimlessly like a man without a soul.
Existing to one side of the world around him, Ryota eventually makes ghosts of both his women. Sitting alone before a table on which lies a lovingly prepared meal, Ryota cannot see Fumiko as she lurks behind him, her form distorted and indistinct as filtered through the frosted glass which acts as divider to their living area. Later her face appears again through a frosted door as she grows ever more distant towards him, no longer “Fumiko” but a strange, unknowable being. Her hand on his face once grounded him, brought him back to the real but since the umbrella disappeared all that has changed. Meanwhile, Ryota wonders if the ghost seeing Sae is his real soulmate only to see her pale before him, her fingers dark and cold as she too becomes little more than something that will bind him to a fate he isn’t sure he wants.
The umbrellas at least seem to want Ryota to be with Fumiko, whatever he (or she) may think about it. An echo of the “red strings of fate”, the umbrellas bind the lovers on a cosmic level which can never be severed – Ryota’s “rebellion” is perhaps towards fate itself, towards having his life dictated to him (by an umbrella) with his personal agency all but removed. Then again, maybe “the umbrellas” know best and what they’ve given Ryota is a gift, only the pleasure of a gift begins to dissipate when it is made clear that it cannot be declined. The cosmos seems determined on railroading him and perhaps the only way to “escape” its harbingers is to accept its judgement and submit, turning a given fate into a chosen one through a conscious act of will. Echoing Kiyoshi Kurosawa in his conflicted romanticism and David Lynch in his eerie sense of the everyday surreal, Tanaka conjures an atmosphere of inescapable supernatural dread as his hero begins to realise his only source of salvation may lie in willing submission.
Screened at Nippon Connection 2018.
TFF trailer (English subtitles)