Body Remember (ボディ・リメンバー, Keita Yamashina, 2021)

“It’s hard to tell what’s true and what’s not.” according to the hero of Keita Yamashina’s twisty take on meta noir, Body Remember (ボディ・リメンバー). For him, the superficial, literal truth is perhaps less important than that which it conceals, hoping to expose the buried reality hidden between the lines in the novel he is attempting to write inspired by a story narrated by his infinitely unreliable femme fatale cousin Yoko (Yume Tanaka). Shifting between an apparently concrete “reality” that is perhaps exposed as anything but by the final scene, dreams, memories, and the act of creation, Yamashina hints at collective fantasies and the essential truth of sensation as his artist hero attempts to turn an enigma into art. 

An unsettling presence, Yoko strides into a cafe dressed in a vibrant red and proceeds to explain to novelist Haruhiko (Takaya Shibata) and his artist girlfriend Ririko (Momoka Ayukawa) that she has long found it difficult to distinguish reality from dream, believing in a sense that the “truth” is irrelevant. Her story seems to be a rather ordinary if tawdry one of finding herself at the centre of a love triangle but also feeling like a third wheel as if she were a puzzle piece hovering over empty spaces unsure where to land while the men are comfortably installed in their rightful places. When lawyer Jiro (Ryuta Furuya) turns up at the bar she has been running with husband Akira (Yohei Okuda) and mournfully explains he suspects his wife is having an affair, the trio reassume an intimacy from their uni days which is later broken by a passionate embrace between Jiro and Yoko accidentally witnessed by the betrayed Akira. 

Playing with images of sex and death, Yoko also recounts that seeing Jiro loosen his tie provoked in her a powerful urge to strangle him with it. Yoko apologises for scaring Haruhiko, but on the contrary he seems to find it arousing later openly telling Ririko that he too is captivated by Yoko while she complains that Jiro and Akira, now (or perhaps always) characters in a novel, are underwritten foils who exist only for Yoko. Haruhiko in a sense agrees, but also pulls focus and makes his potential story, in fact the story we have been watching, about the two men, foreseeing a conclusion which is all manliness and honour tinged with a frisson of homoeroticism that joins them both in the inevitable death foreshadowed in the opening scene. 

Yet Ririko wants to know the truth of it, investigating the bar where Yoko claimed to work and discovering that no such establishment ever existed though the location was recently used by a shady cult. Perhaps jealous, she dreams of an intimate encounter between the smitten Haruhiko and his “sexy” cousin, yet later reflects on her own tendency to run away from reality in flights of fancy. Her revelations perhaps provoke a deeper intimacy with her conflicted boyfriend who finds himself attempting to construct an “authentic” narrative from unreliable testimony, but then again we can’t be sure everything we see is real as the couple engage in a surreal game of beach volleyball with two men resembling Akira and Jiro whose behaviour is strange and childlike if displaying a similar intimacy to that which they appear to share in Haruhiko’s nascent “novel”. 

Challenged by Ririko, Haruhiko merely disappears his heroine, avowing that in the end she was never important in his story about the ambiguous relationship between two men turning her into a mythical femme fatale while Ririko continues to sketch her rival in an attempt to figure her out. Yoko herself tells us that she sees no real distinction between dream and reality that one is no more true or important than the other while insisting that while her mind may forget the facts, the sensation is recorded in her body which will always “remember” if indistinctly. 

Using a cast of mostly theatre actors, Yamashina crafts an unsettling atmosphere founded on tactile sensuality that belies the frequent unreliability of verbal communication while the jazz score and shadowy photography contribute to the sense of noirish dread complete with wafting cigarette smoke and a fatalistic, morally ambivalent conclusion. Further disrupting our sense of reality with a final self cameo, Body Remembers nevertheless reminds us that the truth is less important than our perception of it just as it returns us to where we started even less certain than before. 


Original trailer (English subtitles)

Love and Goodbye and Hawaii (恋とさよならとハワイ, Shingo Matsumura, 2017)

Love and Goodbye and Hawaii poster 1“To end something requires more courage than anything else” the conflicted heroine of Shingo Matsumura’s Love and Goodbye and Hawaii (恋とさよならとハワイ, Koi to Sayonara to Hawaii) is told by her well-meaning ex, but it’s a lesson she’s struggling to learn. Life may very well be a “road made of decisions”, but Rinko (Aya Ayano) doesn’t know how to make them and is rapidly becoming aware that if you don’t hit the relevant dialogue box fast enough they will largely be made for you. Less a tale of romantic confusion, Love and Goodbye and Hawaii is a young woman’s gradual path towards accepting that her attachment to the status quo is as much about the fear of moving forward as it is the pain of faded love.

Office worker Rinko has been living with her graduate student boyfriend Isamu (Kentaro Tamura) for the last three years. To all of their friends, they seem to have the perfect relationship but what no one knows is that, though they continue to live together, the couple broke up some months previously. Seeing as it was Isamu’s apartment in the first place, Rinko plans to move out as soon as she’s saved enough money to find somewhere new in the precarious Tokyo housing market, but then again now that they’re no longer “together” the arrangement has become so comfortable that there’s really no hurry to make a change. Matters come to a head, however, when Rinko discovers that a fellow student at Isamu’s university has taken a liking to him, and it seems he to her.

Despite having been broken up for almost six months, Rinko hasn’t quite accepted that it’s over. She demurs when her friends ask her if she’ll be getting married soon, only latterly admitting that they’ve technically broken up, and explaining that she really has it good now because it was too “heavy” before which is why they fought all the time. Now that there’s “nothing” to fight over and they’ve gone back to being platonic friends it’s all so much easier. Too easy, in fact, which why she isn’t really ready to move on.

Rinko’s unconventional living arrangements seem extremely strange to her friends. “Break up like normal people and never see him again” her friend tells her, offering her a space on the sofa if it’s money that’s the issue. Not that money’s not a problem, but even when well-meaning people offer financial help to end this “weird” situation, Rinko doesn’t really want to take it. She tells her friend that relationships are like driving and you don’t want to jump on the breaks incase they jam and you end up on the skids, but as her perceptive younger sister points out perhaps she just wants to get back together and doesn’t know how to go about it.

Analogies are something Rinko seems to have a taste for, unable to state her feelings plainly in a way others will understand she wraps them up in a more palatable narrative. So it is that she ends up telling her friend’s drunken younger sister that with Isamu she felt like she was CD no other player had worked out how to play. She figured out she liked the sound inside her when she was with him, but time moves on and it feels like she’s still a CD but Isamu is now an iPod and she doesn’t really know what to do with that. What she’s trying to say is that they’ve grown apart, but what she hasn’t quite admitted to herself is that maybe it’s not Isamu that she’s afraid of leaving but the vision of herself as reflected in him.

“Show your real self, put your real feelings out there” the younger woman tells her, but that’s something that doesn’t necessarily get easier with age. Finally gathering the courage, Rinko makes her way back to Isamu for a “serious talk”, only to run into her romantic rival but contrary to expectation the two women find that they have no interest in competition and only wish each other well. Rather than that “serious talk” however, Rinko ends up trying to sort out her romantic dilemma through the familiar medium of a walking race which does at least allow the diffident Isamu to make his feelings plain without actually having to say anything. Sometimes actions are kinder than words, and easier to understand. What Rinko needs to learn is that you can find self acceptance without needing to see it reflected in someone else, and that fear of moving forward is not a good reason for holding back. A quiet and melancholy look at life after love, Love, Goodbye and Hawaii is a gentle ode to the art of moving on with no hard feelings, looking straight ahead.


Original trailer (English subtitles)