“What’s most beautiful, is what disappears before your eyes”
That was the leading directive of Naomi Kawase’s latest film, Radiance (2017), a thoughtful study and meditation on senses and cinema. In the storyline, we are following a writer of audio versions of films for the visually impaired audience, during the processing of the descriptions of her latest movie with a focus-group of blind or partially sighted individuals. Among the individuals of the focus-group is a photographer, who is gradually losing his sight, yet desperately struggling to hang on to the fragments of the visual world. While the plot unravels itself, we are following various layers of narrative and story-telling in forms of synecdoche (interrelated levels of analysis), quite untypical for the Japanese style of film-making.
The dimensions that mostly touched me though, are the multifarious narrative of the relationship between the photographer and his camera and the essentiality of “visual silence” so that to trust the other senses with a similar devotion. The first dimension, is gradually explored through the observation of the character’s drama: while watching and, in cooperation with the writer, processing “Radiance” (a film within the film) the photographer who is slowly losing his sight, gives the mostly harsh criticism to the writer’s work. That brings about the mistake that is often made, when people give overly detailed analyses to blind individuals and by that underestimating the rest of their senses, that are actually working overtime. But most importantly, it gives rise to the fear of a person who has built his life on the power of his vision and gradually feels it fading away. Despite the various compelling scenes where the actions of fatalism he is progressively driven to, are explored, there is one line wherein his camera is metaphorically parallelised with his heart and he simply yet disarmingly states: ““I still carry it with me, although I cannot use it anymore”.
The second dimension and the “visual silence” which was mentioned, falls better in place with the Japanese life- and film-making style. That entails the tight connection of the Japanese people with nature and the realisation of their bodily functions as coordinated with those of the Earth, in consonance with the spiritual and cultural specialities of Japan. Both technically in the film-making process: where the natural autumnal light and the forest sounds were used, and theoretically, in the attributes of the story: where the completeness of the characters is determined by a wide array of elements that lie outside the limitations of the visual reality, what is created as a need for each respective subject is to just pause whatever they are doing for a while, close their eyes and “listen” to all the other forms/parts of reality that are spinning around them. In order for that understanding to be enabled, silence is both a prerequisite and a consequence. However, silence is not conceptualised as an empty space of stillness, but as the most inclusive form of meaning, where there is no need for it to be explicitly displayed. Thus, the use of it for making full use of our senses, was gracefully summarised in one of the characters’ statements, an old man (otherwise the iconic Japanese actor Tatsuya Fujiwho) who is acting in the film within the film and whose silence is tried to be understood by the writer in order to be better described for the blind audience: “I will be deeply touched if a young woman like you can appreciate the poetic nature of the view of an old man’s silhouette walking away”.
Naomi Kawase’s film will be criticised in various ways by film-critics due to its multilevel structure and wide thematic outreach, including the view of it as a “manual” of how to watch cinema, of how to incorporate handicapped people in artistic narratives, of how to view the self as a result of, or as emerging from complex realities. Yet, my appreciation of it lies mainly with the complementary function of the quote lastly presented with the one initially used: “What’s most beautiful, is what disappears before your eyes”. By the parallel reading of these two, it becomes clear that it is not the self-destructive element of the material substance which was to be focused, but the evanescent character of existence, and due to that, the need of it to be grasped by the activation of all the body’s senses.
Photographed by Vahe Hovhannisyan
Written and curated by Marianna Serveta
Feat. “Compass” embroidered faux fur coat and “Elio” velvet embroidered top/dress.