For Rei レイのために Dir: Yukari Sakamoto (2019) [Osaka Asian Film Festival 2020]

For Rei      For Rei Film Poster

レイのためにRei no Tame ni

Release Date: June 27th, 2020

Duration: 65 mins.

Director: Yukari Sakamoto

Writer: Yukari Sakamoto (Script),

Starring: An Ogawa, Amon Hirai, Seiji Kinoshita, Ryo Matsuura,

OAFF Website

Stories of the effects of family breakups on children are hardly a new thing for Japanese cinema with filmmakers like Hirokazu Koreeda and Shinji Somai using it in films such as I Wish (2011) and Moving (1993). Being unique in this field is hard but through nuanced filmmaking, director Yukari Sakamoto creates an intimate, challenging and original portrait of a modern young woman who faces difficult emotions lingering from the trauma of her parent’s split.

 

The titular Rei (An Ogawa) is our main character. She is a university student who lives a peaceful life with her boyfriend Nakamura (Amon Hirai) but beneath her quiet exterior is a girl struggling to become a woman. She is at the most turbulent period of life as she self-actualises a personality but before that can happen she faces the challenge of cauterising the wound of her parent’s divorce and her father’s absence. This has caused a rupture in her sense of self which has created a conflicted personality reticent to the point of being cut her off from others. Rei seeks to heal this by studying philosophy at university. By wrestling with this complicated subject she seeks to clarify and set to rest her emotions. However, as she studies, the desire to meet her absent father (Seiji Kinoshita), who she hasn’t seen since she was a little child, soon seems like more viable avenue of self-understanding.

What occurs with the meeting is a test of the boundaries of her womanhood that forces a self-confrontation with some raw and uncomfortable emotions. This is a tricky subject to pull off and make engaging but Sakamoto tells the story in a way that serves to give us Rei’s perspective as she digs into herself.

 

The film opens and is punctuated with Rei’s academic work, a treatise about perspective that serves to indicate the issues gnawing away at her and also serves to structure some of her emotional journey. Intercut with her bouts of intellectual wrestling are dreams, conversations, and memories about her father such as a picture drawn in crayon by herself when she was a child. These moments and relationship artefacts give context and emotional shading. Through making Rei work through her ideas and memories while meeting her father, Sakamoto allows the audience to understand the journey to independence and self-understanding Rei is undergoing.

Leading us along this path are other directorial choices that firmly root us in Rei’s perspective making this film a deep subjective analysis of one young woman’s attempts to parse her feelings and it is always cinematic. The camera sometimes adopts Rei’s point of view, the editing takes us to different physical and temporal locations, the audio track reflects what she hears. The most striking moment occurs with the use of the Erik Satie piece Gymnopedie No. 3 which indicates the fantasy of maturity she hopes to convey in the restaurant meeting with her father. It cuts out as he pulls her back to reality and lets her know his perspective doesn’t solely rest on her, much to her disappointment.

 

Being up close and personal with someone suggests warmth, but this film is cold and unsentimental in its depiction of Rei’s travails and this may prove difficult to enter for some audience members.

As a character, Rei feels trapped in passivity and being naturally introverted she lacks the ability to exhibit some sort of anger or grief that we may see in regular dramas. She is also unmoored from other people as she focusses on understanding herself. This is shown in her treatment of Nakamura who floats away and her inability to connect with classmates. This is to be expected. She is working through complicated emotions that require time and understanding and the direction connects us to her perspective and, at the end, the perspective of Nakamura. It all allows the audience to experience Rei’s feelings from different angles even if it isn’t palatable.

The film comes to a rest on a feeling of ambivalence that Rei feels for others as she comes to forge her own identity, a recognisable hallmark of maturing. The intelligent intercutting of perspectives shows her journey to understanding the gap between herself and others, how the passionate fantasy of her attempt to reconnect with her father and explore that relationship doesn’t match the quiet reality that their lives have moved on and she has outgrown the need for his presence and, possibly, her connection to others is thin as she has spent so much time trying to perceive herself. A sense of the confusion and freedom she experiences at the end is powerful as Rei finally manages to get over the family breakup and moves closer to maturing but it is a cold and lonely journey. In capturing such complicated feelings, the film is honest as it presents a modern girl grappling with contradictory emotions which are raw and pointedly felt because of smart design choices that make this film a singular experience.

My original review was published at VCinema on April 22nd

Here’s an interview with the director Yukari Sakamoto

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