While Osamu Takahashi is not an unimportant figure in the Shochiku Nouvelle Vague movement, his contributions as writer and as Naoki Prize winner are more known than his cinematographic work. One could even argue that his greatest contribution to the Nouvelle Vague movement is not so much his debut narrative, but his fundamental role in the launch of the film journal Shichinin (The Seven) with his circle of fellow directors, which included Nagisa Oshima and Kiju Yoshida.
Despite his limited importance as director, it nevertheless remains valuable to return to and review his debut narrative, which, as it deals with sexual violence, fits perfectly within the Japanese Nouvelle Vague movement as such.
“Only She Knows” is screening as part of Japan Society:
On Christmas Eve, the whole police division is requested to attend a strategy meeting concerning a rapist murderer on the loose. Division Chief Kitae (Kappei Matsumoto) has enough evidence to predict a new rape and murder happening this evening. Due to the strategy meeting, Ayako (Akiko Koyama) is unable to spend the night with her boyfriend, detective Sugi (Fumio Watanabe). After meeting her lover at the station, she returns home disappointed, not knowing she will be the next victim.
“Only She Knows” may offer nothing more than a straight-forward detective narrative, the element of rape nevertheless enables the director to provide an interesting insight in societal and family dynamics. The rape of Ayako – note that she is not murdered – introduces a field of tension between her father, Sergeant Natsuyama (Chishu Ryu), who is focused on solving the case, and her mother, who wants to protect her daughter by all means.
The field of tension between mother and father is made sensible by the subtle evocation of the cultural aspect of ‘shame’. Ayako’s initial wish to hide the rape from her boyfriend and her father has no other purpose than to ensure her symbolic position within society, even though the reality of the rape problematizes her position as such. It is, in a way, either hiding the traumatic encounter or jump off the societal stage, i.e. suicide.
Nevertheless, as Ayako’s father finds important evidence at the crime scene, he is unable to abide to his wife’s wish to keep their daughter’s rape a secret. It is at this moment that, besides hiding the truth of the trauma or committing suicide, Ayako finds a third way: to rationalize her position and to become an active force in the apprehension of the criminal. The failed murder attempt is a lucky failure that is, by its very failure, a starting point to put the rapist murderer behind bars. In other words, Ayako rationalizes her position as traumatized as to enable her conflicted father to bring the criminal, within the symbolic structure of the law, to justice.
Note that the secrecy of the initial investigation protects the honour of both the father as well as the daughter. The fact that this secrecy is allowed and the fact that Ayako’s role is never made public, subtly evokes the centrality of shame within Japanese society and as internalized by Ayako. While the stress trauma causes could have been framed more sensible, the subtle framing of the impact of shame – the position of being damaged goods in the eye of society – beautifully highlights the impact of the Other on Ayako’s problematic path towards realizing her fundamental role as the only one who knows.
The narrative of “Only She Knows” is framed with a simple mix of fixed shots and fluid following shots. Despite this apparent simplicity, the cinematography boasts some truly satisfying camera movements. Furthermore, at one point in the narrative the simple cinematographical blend is broken by a sequence with more unconventional camera positions. The beauty of this play of form is to be found in the way it is able to evoke the mental state of Ayako as such. Last but not least, the jazzy music that complements the cinematographical mix gives the narrative a certain film-noir like atmosphere.
“Only She Knows” is a good cinematographical narrative, but nothing more. While its thematic axis, i.e. the aspect of shame linked with sexual violence, beautifully highlights the impact of the Other – or in other words society as a sensible instance – on the coping with traumatic experience by a subject, the form by which it is told is too straightforward to be really effective. But even without pushing any cinematographical boundaries, “Only She Knows” is, on its thematic merits alone, still highly recommended for those fans of Japan’s Nouvelle Vague movement.