As I have argued many times before (for instance, in my writings on Kitano Takeshi, on Aoyama Shinji, or for the Japan Foundation), one of central problematics of Japanese cinema of the last two decades has been how to represent the other. In some cases, this has involved representing Japan’s others, especially minorities within the country, but on a more basic level, this has extended to questioning the ability of cinema to represent other individuals. This, I argue, has led many filmmakers of the 1990s to pursue a “detached style” that refrained from using close ups or analytical editing as means of enabling spectators to “know” what characters are thinking and feeling.
This problematic has seemingly declined in importance as new filmmakers have appeared and television—which in Japan has long offered pre-digested visions of the world, as Abe Kasho has argued in Beat Takeshi vs. Kitano Takeshi—has come to dominate film production. But the triple disaster of March 11, 2011, may have revived it in the form of the question of how to understand those who did and still suffer.
Shinozaki Makoto’s Sharing is precisely about how to share this experience of death and catastrophe. But like Shinozaki’s previous 3.11 work, Are Kara, it doesn't show a single image of Fukushima. Disaster is thus shown from a far, the difficulty of knowing it presented from the start as a given. If the former film explored that detachment through media (television, telephones, etc.), Sharing does it through psychology and art.
Indeed, Sharing is on multiple levels an experimental lab in the cinematic representation of the (im)possibilities of sharing with the other. That is in part explained by the fact that the film was produced with the help of funds provided by MEXT for a Rikkyo University project on the psychology of depth. Shinozaki, the director of such films as Okaeri (1995) and Not Forgotten (Wasurerarenu hitobito, 2000), is also a professor in the Department of Body Expression and Cinematic Arts in the College of Contemporary Psychology at Rikkyo. Sharing was mostly shot on the Rikkyo campus in Niiza and features faculty and psychology labs.
With professional actors and crew, however, this is not school project. What it does is explore depth and distance both in space and psychology. It focuses primarily on two stories: that of Eiko, a professor of social psychology who is studying precognitive dreams but who continues to have visions of her lover who died in 3.11; and that of Kaoru, a student who has lost no one in the 3.11 disaster but insists on putting on a play based on a recurring dream that she is a woman who lost her daughter to the tsunami. Each explores the possibility that psychic processes can extend beyond the self, into the realm of others. Showing some visitors an actual experiment where one can come to feel a rubber hand as one’s own, Eiko explores the possibilities of sharing across time and space. Kaoru doesn’t simply believe in her dream of and by an other, she folds that into her theater where she must play an other.
There is another story, however. And it underlines an important motif in the film: that of alter egos or bunshin. This narrative focuses on a young male student who stalks Eiko and may be planting bombs on campus. Shinozaki deftly uses the glass walls of the Niiza campus to orchestrate a dramaturgy of gazes over depth and between spaces, and it is in that structure that the young man can seem not only to be looking at Eiko, but also at himself, as if becoming a doppelgänger.
This possibility that the other is actually the self is another permutation of the problem of sharing with the other, but through a twist in the film’s production history, it also splits the film. There are actually two versions of Sharing, a short 99-minute version and a longer 112-minute version. The first was edited to be completed in time for the end of the MEXT budget year, while the second, which needed more time, is closer to the original script. It is important that Shinozaki has chosen to keep the two versions. The main but not sole difference between the two is that the shorter version lacks the story of the young man. His presence in the longer version not only foregrounds the theme of the doppelganger, it in effect splits the film, creating an alter ego or a doppelganger for the film itself.
So just as Shinozaki in the narrative asks what can be shared between two people, he asks us in the theater what is shared between these two films. Clearly much is, but there are many crucial differences. Without the young man, the shorter version focuses, in a more positive fashion, on the possibilities of personal sharing. One could argue it is less of a 3.11 film because, instead of focusing on present reality, in which it seems most Japanese refuse to share with the suffering of the Tohoku victims, it engages with the more abstract possibilities of sharing.
With the young man, however, the longer Sharing shifts from being individual psychological drama to horror cinema. Shinozaki has always straddled the gap between art film and B-movies, and the terror in the film, though strong and palpable, edges into horror flick territory. That, however, actually makes this more of a 3.11 film as it moves from abstract hopes for psychology to the corporal fears of absurd and unpredictable—but still human—disaster.
By viewing and thinking between these different genres and worldviews, the audience is not only enjoined to contemplate the reality of psychology and terror in the face of the unknown, but also consider art’s relation to that. For even with the hopeful moments in the short version of Sharing, there is a long scene—shortened in the other version—that gets to the core of the problem of expression. While rehearsing for the play, Kaoru’s co-stars begin to question not just the ability to act the role of a 3.11 victim, but the possibility of realistically performing another person at all or an experience one has not had, an argument that eventually leads to the others abandoning the play.
The film, in the end, supports Kaoru’s decision to go on—giving us in full the power of her one-person performance—but it doesn’t necessarily assert that such efforts to act out another must be based on apparently supernatural dreams, especially given Sharing’s own skepticism towards the existence of God. Rather, it uses Kaoru, Eiko, the young man—and even itself—to explore how performance or others always involves alter egos, doppelgangers, bunshin. Like Sharing itself turned into two films, the artist must split him or herself and become other, in order to begin to perform an other.
This may be Shinozaki’s assertion of the unique role of art in understanding the experience of others in a disaster, but it is accompanied by an acknowledgement of how uncanny, horrific, even monstrous this is. Shinozaki may be moving closer than those in the 1990s to claiming cinematic access to the other, but he does so only by underlining how fraught that is with death and terror. The March 11 catastrophe may have provided filmmakers a new chance to face the pressing need to understand the other, but only if they face the horror of disaster and art.