彼女来来 「Kanojo Rairai」
Release Date: June 18th 2021
Duration: 91 mins.
Director: Tatsuya Yamanishi
Writer: Tatsuya Yamanishi (Script),
Starring: Kou Maehara, Hana Amano, Nao, Hirona Murata, Asuka Hamaru,
With a mission to marry and unleash the creative talents of filmmakers and musicians, MOOSIC LAB has quickly established itself as one of Japan’s foremost labels for quirky and interesting indie films made on a shoestring budget. Although POP! won the Grand Prix and Best Actress Award at the MOOSIC LAB 2020-2021 awards, runner-up prize-winning film Mari and Mari is the first to make the transition to the international festival circuit with its play at Japan Cuts 2021.
Marrying the distinctively disquieting music by Rei Miyamoto, a violinist in the popular Kansai band “Vampillia,” with a quasi-mystery storyline and the eerie atmospherics created by newbie feature film writer/director Tatsuya Yamanishi, Mari and Mari presents a relationship drama that is open to interpretation due to its ambiguity, something which will either intrigue or frustrate viewers.
We follow thirty-year-old Norio (Kou Maehara), a mild-mannered man who leads an enviable life that comes unstuck one fateful summer to reveal all is not as it seems. As a valued member of a casting company, he has one foot comfortably in the showbiz world and, after work, he enjoys a blissful domestic life shared with Mari (Nao), his girlfriend of three years. We watch their quotidian routines as they stroll along riverbanks hand-in-hand and loll around in comfort at home. Laughter and affection mark their time together at the end of each day as they are bathed in the warmth of the red rays of the setting evening sun. This sight of settled perfection induces feelings of envy in all around Norio and he can only respond by smiling bashfully as he seems to enjoy the attention while never really letting people into his private life.
Disruption comes one evening when Norio returns home to his small apartment on the outskirts of Tokyo to find a strange woman (Hana Amano) asleep in the shadowy confines of their sitting room. She may answer to the name Mari but when she rouses at his presence and opens a curtain, she reveals that she is not the Mari he knows. This sleepy young woman seems to have “replaced” Norio’s girlfriend. Her appearance and his girlfriend’s disappearance are a mystery. Adding to the confusion is the fact that this languid interloper insists that she will be living in his apartment from now on and she has no answers for any of Norio’s questions…
Ostensibly driving the film forward is Norio’s search for his girlfriend and his dealings with this new young woman who is essentially an amnesiac but follows the same routines as the original Mari. This situation creates conflict as Norio’s behaviour deteriorate and his everyday life goes off-kilter.
His obsession with finding out the truth to the whereabouts of the missing Mari is fuelled effectively by glimpses of his girlfriend in dreams, naturalistic conversations with co-workers envious of his old relationship, and with her sister who paints picture of a more capricious person that Norio never perceived. These discoveries inform what seems to be the subtext of the film which is the artificiality of the life Norio leads.
As Norio journeys through a light mystery and works through his obsession, he learns things that go against his idealised image of his partner that he persists on clinging on to. This coupled with his tumultuous on-off relationship with his houseguest produce moments that reveal even more juicy titbits such as the fact that his parents had never met the original Mari and that he prefers to keep people at a distance. It all points to the idea that he never truly knew her his girlfriend or, at least, didn’t care to see complications and preferred a person who fit a simple image that meshed with his own lifestyle. That Norio is a casting agent and there is the change in actress in the lead role is very telling in a metacinema way. That he can slowly adjust to a change in casting with regards to Mari leads to the disturbing idea that it isn’t so much chasing the genuine person who was his partner as it is more about capturing a person who matches his ideal image of a girlfriend.
This is one interpretation. The film never fully commits to explaining anything, which may be a point of frustration for some viewers, especially as the ending offers a potentially devastating final glimpse of the two women named Mari that suggests a deeper exploration of how people engage in superficial relationships, something that is always implicit throughout the narrative with various subplots involving inter-office affairs and casting calls and Norio’s own behaviour.
Whatever the conclusions viewers draw from Tatsuya Yamanishi’s story, there is no doubt that he has a strong sense for visual storytelling that keeps engagement high. With great command of shadow and light, he creates a Kiyoshi Kurosawa-esque atmosphere that gifts a supernatural edge to the story a la something like Daguerreotype (2016). The languidness of summer and the tumultuous effects of rainy season, where fixing windows and hiding indoors, also seem appropriate for a film about all of the changes that happen under the surface of Norio’s life and, aside from some nice urban shots of characters smoking on rooftops, the blandness of the suburban settings also lends itself to the idea that Norio would like to maintain that tranquil setting. Whether the new or old Mari will let him keep his tranquillity is questioned right until the end.