In 2017, Ogata Takaomi’s “A Hungry Lion” (2017) explored the danger and the power of the image on mental health of high-school students. This narrative subtly underlined the problematic dimension of the image in contemporary Japanese society. Apparently, Takaomi was not the only on to highlight the problematic effects the dimension of the image can have in the Japanese society. In the same year, Shugo Fujii released his socially engaged narrative “Red Line Crossing”, which, contrary to Takeomi’s narrative, explores the effect of the image on teachers.
Red Line Crossing is screening at the 19th Japan Film Fest Hamburg
One day, principal Inada (Etsuko Tanemura) enters her office at Toyotama Jr. high school. While she thought she shut her computer down, it is still running. Despite feeling uneasy, she decides to check it out and finds a website called ‘Japanese schoolgirl Upskirt Voyeur’ opened in the browser. Suddenly, she is confronted with Uenishi-sensei’s body. The word ‘webmaster’, written on a page, is attached to his body.
The teachers quickly suspect the involvement of students. Mori-sensei (Daiki Tanaka), in order to prevent further crime, decides, together with some colleagues, to systematically search the bags of the students. Eventually, they discover strange stuff belonging to a student named Manda, but this discovery appears to hide a reality far more problematic that they ever could have assumed.
As a narrative, “Red Line Crossing” touches upon many things that are intrinsically linked with the importance of the image within contemporary Japanese society. In the context of a school – the school as a place of how to become able to function within society – the way the incident and the prevention of further crime is approached reveals that only the ‘eye’ of society, i.e. how the image of the school, its students, and the teachers reflect towards society’s ‘eye’, matters.
This concern is subtly evoked in the refusal of the teachers to go to the police before someone is pinpointed as ‘responsible’, before someone is forced to take the fall for the incident. This search is revealed as a way to safeguard, as much as possible, the image of school in the ‘eye’ of society. This preoccupation with the societal image is also made evident by the denial of the existence of bullying and problem-children and by the explicit concealing of line-crossing behaviour of certain teachers. Besides pointing towards the importance of the societal image, the denial and concealing points to an underlying and understandable preoccupation with safeguarding one’s own image as respectable teacher. As everyone is preoccupied with their image, the tackling of the problem, i.e. bullying between students, is ironically circumvented.
While “Red Line Crossing”, by showing the fundamental difference between these images and the hidden (and often cruel) subjectivity, e.g. fear of losing face, sensibly confronts the spectator with the tyranny of the societal surface-image and the general preoccupation with maintaining this facade, the narrative also empowers this confrontation by focusing on the mental (in)stability, often hidden behind the ego-image, and the subjective destabilizing this preoccupation can cause. In other words, it is only through the framing of the effects trauma, guilt and human cruelty can have and the counterproductive effects of endangering the deceptive ego, that the preoccupation with maintaining a self-image towards society and the importance of upholding a hypocrite family-image within the school and between teachers is shockingly delineated.
The cinematography of “Red Line Crossing” reveals a love for movement and composition. By carefully selecting cinematographical techniques, e.g. (extreme) close-ups, various camera-perspectives, depth of field, zoom-outs,… etc., and thoughtfully combining them, Fujii is able to craft some truly interesting narrative sequences and infuse his narrative with a sensible emotional tension throughout. Nevertheless, Fujii’s thoughtfulness and his firm grasp on the medium of film is felt the most in his ability of composing shots in a poetically associative way. These brief poetic associations give, due to their clarity and evocative power, emotional depth to Tania and, to a lesser degree, Kan-sensei and Mori-sensei. All these elements, especially Fujii’s insistence on close-ups, reveals that the narrative’s cinematographical composition aims to frame the mental state of various characters beyond the surface-image of society. And Fujii, supported by a cast able to bring the superficial hypocrisy and the trembling of the psyche in a natural way to the fore, does this is a highly effective and extremely refreshing way.
Furthermore, the way sounds and music are integrated into the cinematographical composition successfully creates an atmosphere of tension, while – when necessary – underlining the shifts to the associative poetic image-sequences. These shifts are also underscored through the way Fujii plays with colours. While the more ‘objective’ narrative spaces are painted in depressive subdued colours, subtle colour-changes herald the framing of the subjective mental reality of Tania or, in some cases, the subjective reality of Kan-sensei and Mori-sensei.
The emotional effectiveness of “Red Line Crossing” has to be situated in Fujii’s ability to frame, by way of his seamlessly integrated brief moments of associative visual poetry, mental instability – that what hides behind the ‘eye’ of society but problematizes the consistency of the ego – in such a remarkable and sensible way. By framing these subjective moments, Fujii clearly shows that the subject is never the same as the self-image. As such, the narrative reveals that the truth of the subject has to be found in those moments of mental stumbling and not in the self-serving deceptive mirror palace, which gives a subject a place as image within a society that thrives on images like no other. In this way, “Red Line Crossing”, this highly effective and thoughtfully composed cocktail of tension and mystery ending in a highly confronting and thought-provoking way, becomes nothing other than one of the most powerful plea’s for more attention to mental health in Japanese society.