“[a] rich psychological reflection on fundamentally flawed subjects and the way in which they deal with loss. (…) In short, (…) a masterpiece.”
Almost every cinematographical narrative that Nishikawa has crafted up until now – with Dear Doctor (2009) as exception – has concerned family and relations related to a family context. But on a more fundamental level, Nishikawa’s main focus has been the discrepancy subjects display between what is inside (uchi) and what is outside (soto).
Wild Berries (2002) concerned the facade each member of the family upheld, while Yureru (2006) tackled the mendacity of the ego. Dear Doctor (2009) focused on an imposter and Dreams for sale (2012) on a couple conning lonely women. With The long excuse, which is adaptation of a novel she wrote herself, Nishikawa returns back to the aspect of the facade.
The Long Excuse tells the story of popular middle-aged novelist Sachio Kinugasa (Masahiro Motoki). One day, after cutting his hair, Kinugasa’s wife Natsuko (Eri Fukatsu) leaves home hurriedly to meet up with an old school friend (Keiko Horiuchi) and catch the bus for their jointly trip to a ski resort. By the time the bus has left, Kinugasa is already together with the pretty young editor (Haru Kuroki) he is cheating with. The morning after, while teasing his lover, he learns that his wife died in the bus-accident. Suddenly, Kinugasa, whose marriage with Natsuko was nothing more than cold, finds himself in the position of having to perform the role of mourning spouse. And then, he meets Yoichi Omiya (Pistol Takehara), whose wife also died in the bus accident.
One of the main themes of The long excuse is how, in the eye of the Other, one has to lie himself as image, as ego – The Other here understood as the whole of others, that underpin the expectations of mourning for instance. The main worry of Kinugasa, brilliantly played by Masahiro Motoki, is precisely the way in which he can be read or seen by others and how he, as writer of his own image, and his significant others (especially his wife) have to keep that image, as attached to his name as signifier, consistent for the Other (narra-note 1, narra-note 2). In this respect, women, be it Natsuko or his lover, only serve as support for his imaginary (public) image and their subjectivity, in the eyes of Kinugasa, effaced (narra-note 3).
It is therefore not surprising that when Kinugasa hears of his wife’s death, his responses appear more emotionally flat for the spectator (Narra-note 4). This is in contrast with the emotions of Yoichi Omiya, which underlines, albeit shortly, how the death of a subject can disorient one’s life. While the existing gap between Kinugasa and his wife is only translated in the Real, Omiya is, in the most brutal way, confronted with a sort of gap that did not previously existed. But the translated gap of Kinugasa does entail a different confrontation: a confrontation, caused by others, with his lack of desire and the lack of love (narra-note 5).
The long excuse is also a narrative about parenting, showing a range of parental situations and the associated joys and difficulties. The encounters of Kinugasa with Omiya’s children are often marked by a certain lighthearted awkwardness, as Kinugasa, never having being a father, has to find a proper way to communicate with them. Nevertheless, for the spectator, it is unclear if this caring is only a way to polish his ego as a successful novelist, providing new inspiration for his writing, or if genuine feelings are in play.
The narrative can also be read as a criticism on the position of the male subject in contemporary family life. In showing the very possibility of men to do household chores, it underlines, in the case of Kinugasa as well as in the case of Omiya, the indisputable importance and indispensability of the woman in the management of family life.
With Nishikawa’s masterful framing and Yutaka Yamazaki’s careful cinematography, which consists primarily of a blend of static and dynamic shaky documentary-like shots, Nishikawa is able to bring the complexity of her flawed characters realistically and sophisticated to the fore (Cine-note 1). The evoking of complexity and the different layers of emotional depth of her characters is also empowered by the thoughtful use of ambient noise and music. Quite often, as the ambient noise conditions a rather empty space, the impact of sudden noises or sudden bursts of emotion is very tangible. Even if the narrative starts by underlining the contrast between the more flat emotions of Kinugasa – his anger being an exception – and the more lived emotions of Omiya, The Long Excuse adds more layers of diverse emotional quality, turning this narrative into a truly emotive experience (Narra-note 4).
The Long Excuse is a realistic rich and nuanced psychological reflection on fundamentally flawed subjects and the way in which they deal with loss. As the seasons cycle, a rich palette of emotions is vividly painted, underlining that grieving is a subjective process that goes beyond any prescribed societal rules and that our self-image and joy of living are only defined by our relation to others (Cine-note 2). In short, Nishikawa has once again crafted a masterpiece.
Narra-note 1: One fundamental dimension of Kinugasa’s ego, his own image, a dimension easily damaged, is the idea of being needed (for his wife and for Omiya’s children.
Narra-note 2: Furthermore, this lying, this making consistent of oneself as image in the eye of the Other, is also underlined by media’s concern to produce such consistent images.
Narra-note 3: The fact that he had no interest in the life of his wife is first underlined when Kinugasa, while watching the news of the bus-accident, fails to realize that his wife was on that bus. That Kinugasa fails to answer any questions the police officer asks about his wife positively, makes the gap that existed between him and his wife and his disinterest in her as subject all the more apparent.
Narra-note 4: It is important to underline that Kinugasa is not an emotionless being. His anger, as associated with the threatening of his image, his ego, is very sensible for the spectator. And also the interactions with Omiya’s children, accompanied with smiles and expressive facial expression, as often underlined by playful music, feel sincere and are heart-warming.
Narra-note 5: The narrative shows Kinugasa coming to terms with the reality of his marriage and a certain re-examination of his position as subject, a position appearing as unchangeable.
Cine-note 1: The cinematography is also enriched by dynamic shots, e.g. zoom-ins, the camera moving horizontally in space, camera following characters … . These aspects were, albeit to a lesser degree, already present in the cinematography of Yureru.
Cine-note 2: By showing seasonal events as Hanami and Hanabi, the narrative pays careful attention to the cycle of the different seasons and, as such, the passing of time.