Family as performance has become a prominent theme in the ongoing development of the family drama. Ever since The Family Game punched a gaping hole through the sanctities of the family unit, nothing has quite been the same. Then again, performance only goes so far and will necessarily fail when there is no genuine connection to back it up. Every family has its problems, according to Tetsu the bereaved patriarch at the centre of His Lost Name (夜明け, Yoake), but you cannot simply escape them through substitution or subterfuge.
When Tetsu (Kaoru Kobayashi) finds a young man passed out on a riverbank, his first instinct is to help him. He takes him home, but the man though obviously grateful remains reticent, only latterly identifying himself as “Shinichi Yoshida” (Yuya Yagira) which, as Tetsu points out, is a suspiciously common name. “Shinichi” starts working at Tetsu’s furniture factory and is warmly welcomed by the other employees as well as Tetsu’s fiancée Hiromi (Keiko Horiuchi) who runs the office. He is, however, somewhat nervous, shrinking away from passing policemen and having a full on meltdown when a friend tries to take his picture.
Tetsu, meanwhile, has not been entirely truthful either. His wife and son, also (coincidentally) called Shinichi, were killed in a car accident some years previously. Despite having arranged to officialise his relationship with Hiromi, it seems he’s not quite ready to leave the past behind and is not planning to live with her even after they marry nor has he made much of a motion to separate himself from his former family home.
The arrival of the new “Shinichi” is then a fortuitous one, in some senses, in that it affords Tetsu a path back towards the son he’s lost. This is perhaps why he is so keen to look after Shinichi despite knowing that he’s not telling him the whole truth and is obviously on the run from something or other. Shinichi tells him that he’s on a “soul-searching” vacation and is in this tiny village because he visited it at some unspecified point in the past. Tetsu is content to let him be, confident that Shinichi will offer up more truth when the occasion calls but also hoping to persuade him to stay in the place of the Shinichi he has already lost.
Snippets of what he says may be true – an overbearing, authoritarian father and cold family background suggest Shinichi is looking for exactly what Tetsu offers him. Yet Tetsu, trying his best to do better, may be little different. He argued with his Shinichi because he rejected the furniture business to be an electrician. Tetsu railroaded his son in much the same way Shinichi’s father did him, and despite his instruction to “choose your own path” is clearly grooming his surrogate son as an heir (much to the disappointment of Shoji (Young Dais), a loyal worker at the factory who clearly loves Tetsu and is a good friend to Shinichi).
Both accepting that what passes between them is to some extent a simulacrum, the two men take what they need, fulfilling the roles of family a little more than superficially but painfully missing the mark. Meanwhile, their awkward closeness begins to disrupt Tetsu’s peaceful existence in dredging up memories of the past, damaging his relationship with Hiromi and placing a strain on his business. Shoji, upset that Shinichi froze rather than back him up during an incident we can infer was in some degree triggering, angrily tells him that he should “trust us more”. He may well have a point in that Shinichi’s reticence prevents him becoming a full member of the “family” but it’s less a matter of trust in others than belief in himself that keeps Shinichi silent.
Unable to accept himself as himself, and failing to step into the persona of “Shinichi”, all Shinichi is left with is intense shame and self-loathing. The failure of the Shinichi persona perhaps forces him to reclaim his own name, but the shame still remains as does the sense of drifting confusion which prevents him from moving forward with his life. Tetsu meanwhile is forced to accept that he cannot save his son and is ill-equipped to help this confused young man with whom he has made all the same mistakes as before, burdening him with unfair parental expectations he knows for certain that the boy cannot carry. A tale of fractured identities, fraying familial bonds, and irresolvable guilt, His Lost Name leaves its heroes much as it found them, mired in shame and regret but with perhaps a degree of acceptance for that which cannot be changed.
International trailer (English subtitles)