Written by Qiumeng Wang
Romantic, pure, extreme beauty and death are preferable subjects in many Japanese cinemas. Those characteristics are perfectly displayed by certain Japanese directors who have typical personal visual style and are deeply influenced by music video, such as Shunji Iwai and Tetsuya Nakashima.
“While potentially free from any pressure to follow narrative conventions, music videos were frequently quasi-narratives, prominently featuring performers MTV aesthetics in terms of gratauitous special effects, rapid editing.”
Such visual style mixed with music video aesthetics in feature films is not easily accepted by audiences and critics. “Over formalistic”, “superficial” and other negative reviews are put on those directors’ shoulders, which also blames the prominent abusing of music video visual style in recent Japanese films. Indeed, frequent slow motion and fragmentary editing may set obstacles on the way of narrating a complete story and maintain the constancy of narrative rhythm. This style even obeys rules set up in classical Hollywood films – using invisible editing cut to create a “real world” in cinemas.
However, such mixed visual style and implementation of music video aesthetics in feature films build an accessible path to understanding those directors as an “auteur”. Also, it is not only a representative of post cinema, but also a window to see Japanese aesthetics.
Confessions is “a psychological thriller of a grieving mother turned cold-blooded avenger with a twisty master plan to pay back those who were responsible for her daughter’s death. (IMDb)”
In this film, there are plenty of slow motion shots and rapid editing without inner narrative logic and connection, which makes this film very stylistic.
“adding supplementary meaning and a sense of directional temporality and autonomy to otherwise fragmentary moving images (Shaviro, 2016, 364)”
In the beginning of this film, a girl pushed a box of milk down from the desk, when the teacher was explaining the function of milk for teenagers. This scene is displayed in 72 frames. Such slow motion addresses that those students are in the rebellious stage, and forces us to figure out more intention of this scene.
In the murder scene, there are six dissolves in just one and half minutes and the camera gives the death of teacher’s child a low angle shot in slow motion, which makes it very poetic. The poetic and stylistic death of a little girl makes a great contrast to the mercilessness of two murders. Actually, Japanese prefer to depict dark side in an extremely poetic and beautiful way, likewise “the fading sakura” and beauty of funeral for flowers.
With no blood, no direct portray of murder, or cruel scenes, death and mercilessness is presented in romantic slow motion and exaggerated visual language, such as extremely high/low angle, over exposure, backlighting and convex lens. When above forms appears in a film in merely one or two scenes, we might particularly notice it and rethink the directors’ intention as well as the connction between content and form. However, when a film is full of such shots, audience might feel they are watching a music video instead of a drama film. The strong power of visual form consistently drags audience out from the story. “The director is too intentional” appears in their minds.
The conflict is inevitable. Many reviews argued the shortage of film directors who were transferred from a music video director, saying they can hardly distinguish the visual language of a film and music video. In my opinion, I feel the overuse of music video style is a brand of Japanese films, which reveals the nation’s aesthetics- poetic, utopian and pursuit of beautiful death. It is in Japanese films that you can see the extreme cruelty and beauty coexisting.
Confessions (2010), http://www.imdb.com/title/tt1590089/
Carol Vernallis (2013), “Music Video’s Second Aesthetic” in: Unruly Media, New York: Oxford University Press, 207- 233.