Into the Heart of the Mind…or the Mind of the Heart. Or the…
Last year, a new planet was discovered, and named Emanon, obviously inspired by manga that was, in turn inspired by the musical duo from Los Angeles. But now everything is including Emanon, particularly companies.
The movie starts with a bunch of seemingly random images. Our main character, Mika, walking down the street. And she is in bed with her boyfriend Teru. Then he goes to the balcony, upset about something. Then he puts on his clothes, ready to leave…but Mika is out walking.
Mika is a grad student at a school for…something…she works for a Professor Maeda as an unpaid assistant, and has two colleagues, Takayama and Nakai. Takayama is gathering data on…something…for Maeda. Meanwhile, it seems like Nakai and Mika are basically killing time until Mika goes to her part-time job…
…as a travel agent. She gets to her seat and her co-worker, Shige, immediately tries to make plans after work. Mika says that she is busy. He asks if it is with a guy and, while she does not tell him about the matchmaking app that she was using on the train ride over…it is obvious that, yes, a guy. Perhaps as a joke, Shige asks to tag along, but Mika denies him.
A guy comes in asking to book a trip to…Agartha, because he is a child chasing lost voices. Mika looks for available flights, but cannot find any information. She consults with Shige, but he cannot find anything on it either. She apologizes to the guy and asks for additional information about Agartha, which he does not have. When she asks what part of the world it is located, he says that any place is fine. After a little pause, she gets him to agree (quite excitedly on his part) that he pretty much just wants to travel somewhere, so she asks about his budget and they start working out something. Okay, so he is a little weird, but it is a weird that she can work with.
Mika goes to a bar where she meets the guy whom she had matched with on an app that she had used earlier in the day on her way to work. Is it for a date? Um…unsure, because the movie does a quick cut to them having sex in a hotel room. As she gets ready to go home, he asks if they can meet again. Sure.
Mika gets back home and changes into her PJs. Teru insults her, but she says that this is all because he is not with her. He asks how long this will continue, and she admits that she has not really thought about that. They keep talking and…it becomes clear that Teru is not actually there. Mika believes that this is all in her imagination, just her being delusional. But, she is fine with it. Perhaps imagining the disembodied voice of her ex-boyfriend helps her work through her thoughts and feelings, even if they are negative.
Back at the university, Takayama is watching a program about Emanon’s possible effect on the climate in the form of extreme weather. Takayama is skeptical, as every year seems to be hotter and colder than whatever is considered normal. What is normal weather if not what the weather is? She asks Professor Maeda what he knows about Eamanon, which he claims is as much as she knows, despite his involvement in the research. He then asks if Mika is coming today, and Takayama says that she has only two classes a week. Maeda is a little disappointed, but asks why she stays anyways. Takayama calls him insensitive.
Nakai asks if Mika has a boyfriend, but then gets all embarrassed when Takayama asks why he is curious. Then he claims that he is serious about wanting to pursue her. Maeda declares himself fine with lab romances, but Takayama tells Nakai to stay ways from Mika. Why? Because Nakai is younger than Mika? Sort of, but Takayama says that she does not want to see Mika hurt again. She theorizes that Mika is staying in grad school not because she wants to, but because…oh, scene change.
Mika and Shige are having dinner with two other women, one of whom is talking about her creepy boss and a cute underling who stood up to him…but is also a major creep. She can laugh about it and the others laugh along with her, but the stories that she tells are quite…well, creepy.
After dinner, Mika and Shige hang out a little. Shige mentions having broken up with her boyfriend, which she had not told Mika before due to wanting to seem happy.
The two start teasing each other and Shige asks if Mika if she still hears Teru’s voice, and she says yes. It freaks Shige out, who theorizes that it may be why she has not had her period. Mika insists that it is just her own personal delusion, and does not bother anyone. And, besides, she has not had her period in five years. Shige claims that, even though at least she does acknowledge that the voice is fake, this means that she is still not over Teru, and the reason why she stays in grad school.
Some guy in an otherwise empty club is looking at articles on his phone…on about Emanon, others about…crimes in Europe…okay. I hope that whatever is in those bottles with the Rising Sun on them is good because…blech.
Mika and Shige say their goodbyes, with Shige telling Mika to hi to Teru. Soon after they part, Mika tells Teru that Shige said hi, and Teru replies that he heard. She asks if she could quit university. Teru says to do so when she wants to…when it is the right time…which has not come yet. Then he asks why she went to that university in the first place, as she was not the science type. She replies that she did not have to go to university at all…actually, she has forgotten what she had wanted to do. Perhaps the Kabbalah Numerology got to her. Then she starts thinking that she had told him about this before. Glitch in the matrix huh.
The Agartha guy returns to the agency, thanking Mika for helping him on his trip, which he very much enjoyed. He gives her a box of…something, as thanks, telling her that he will come again when he goes to Agartha. Mika tries to ask him about that, but he is already walking out. Okay.
Shige asks Mika to hook him up with the guy, but Mika refuses. In any case, they open the box and…what the fuck?
Okay, it is only wood, I think…so it is okay. But both of them freak out for a bit. Once they calm down, Mika quietly reminds Shige to not…erm…talk like a woman while in the workplace…ahem. I guess because there are official masculine and feminine versions of the Japanese language. Anyways. This thing is a work of art. Shige suggests that Mika display it in her room. Mika says that it is creepy, but Shige asserts that it fits her crazy woman image. It is cuter than skulls or reptiles. And, anyways, Mika is not that girly anyways. Mika denies that, but she is starting to smile.
Back home, Mika makes some dinner and eats it in front of the box. She asks Teru what he thinks it is. He says that it is a brain, which…yeah…He tells her to display it, even though she says that it is not her thing. Teru theorizes that the guy gave her the gift because he likes her, which puzzles Mika even further. Teru gives an alternate theory, that it is a message, like maybe get over the wall. Mika calls him a poet/J-pop writer, and then…screams out. In pain? Despair? Grief? Terror? Longing?
After she calms down a bit, Mika tells Teru that she misses him…misses sex with him. She says that he had promised to be her family, and starts crying.
Sudden cut to the middle of the day and Mika is at a bus stop. She gets a phone call requesting that she come to an event at a club later that day. She asks if she can bring Shige along, and he says yes. Out of nowhere, there is what sounds like a distorted guitar, and Mika frowns. Has she had this chat before? The guy says that it is déjà vu, and that the switch is turned on. Switch? He says that he is kidding, but will be waiting for her to show up.
Well, Mika and Shige show up to the rock performance and Mika seems to be having lots of fun dancing to the music. Everyone else seems to be standing politely because Japan, but not Mika. This amuses Shige, who tries to copy her, but he cannot match her energy. Oh, it turns out the guy who put this together and called Mika is named Bird, and he was the guy from earlier looking through news reports on his phone.
The performance is over and it seems like everyone is gone except for Mika, Shige, and Bird. Mika is…well, passed out at the bar, but I guess that Shige trusts Bird enough to look out for her, and leaves.
Eventually, Mika wakes up to find everyone gone. She wanders around the room for a bit when she sees her reflection in something and the guitar noise suddenly pops up. Déjà vu again. She waits for Teru to respond, but he seems to be ignoring her.
So Mika leaves the club…and it is the middle of the day. She goes back home to find Mika sleeping in her bed.
Mika wakes up to find Mika staring down at her. What? This makes no sense. This must be a dream. Mika looks at the clock. It is still 6 in the morning. Might as well go back to sleep.
Mika is confused and slightly distressed. This is her home. She came back to get some proper sleep. Mika is not particularly sympathetic and doesn’t move from the bed. Mika may have come here to sleep, but this is Mika’s home. She closes her eyes and says that they may meet again in another dream.
Mika still tries to make sense of this. She looks around, and sees the brain out on display…and then she leaves the apartment.
As she stands outside her apartment, Mika asks Teru what that was. A doppelganger? Still, Teru is silent.
Mika is in a café when she sees Teru walk past. She runs after him and embraces him, exclaiming that she missed him so much. He has no idea who she is. He does admit that he is Teru, but claims that she has the wrong guy. He speed-walks away from her, leaving her perplexed.
Shige notices that Mika is sort of spacing out at work. He asks whether she would like to come to a party at his friend’s home. Mika is unsure, but Shige says that he was asked to bring some girls. It shouldn’t be a big party, maybe around ten people.
So, Mika arrives with Shige. There seems to be a few more than ten, but no matter. They meet with Shige’s friend and form a group with a couple other women. Wait. Is one of those the two women from the dinner the other night? Maybe not. In any case, Shige’s friend asks if Mika is his girlfriend. No. No. No. Just his assistant. Wait. Does Shige’s friend not know that he is gay? Or…well, anyways…
A man finishes his beer and enters the group. He greets Mika and Shige, introducing himself as Teru.
Wait…is this a flashback? Okay, this must be a flashback.
Teru mentions that he and Mika had met that morning, and that he is glad that she seems better. Mika has no memory of that.
What is going on? Are we following the other Mika now? How long has this been going on?
Mika and Teru go to the balcony and Mika prods him for additional information about their supposed morning meeting. Mika is…maybe a little skeptical, but she does admit that she feels like she has met him before…just, not that morning. Okay, maybe it wasn’t Mika, but Teru admits that this does feel like the second time for him as well.
Well, I guess that the two hit it off, since they leave the party and jog down the street holding hands until they sit down, out of breath.
Mika has to pull Teru up, but it may have just been a ploy for him to embrace her. He tells her to kiss him, and after a little hesitancy, she does…and again. It is not clear that she is quite into it or ready for this yet. So, Teru goes in for a longer kiss, which is still kind of awkward is this a deliberate directing choice? Because if this was the actors genuinely feeling uncomfSCENE CHANGE!
Mika walks alone down the street at night when the guitar noise hits her again. The voice of Teru asks her why she doesn’t go home. Mika is surprised that he has returned. But he tells her that she has not slept well and must be tired.
Mika goes back home…it is her home, right? And no one is here? Just her and the voice of Teru. So, she sits down and asks Teru why did she meet herself. And why the Teru whom she met was not Teru. Teru asks her what she thinks. Not much help there. But she remembers the message. Over the wall. Did she go over the wall? Teru is, again, unhelpful. Mika says that she doesn’t understand, but Teru assures her that it is fine if she doesn’t understand everything. She accuses him of dodging the question again.
In the morning, news on the big television is of Professor Maeda’s colleague explaining Emanon’s expansion. I am not sure if the math on the program checks out, or if he actually explains anything, but no matter. He admits, at least, to not knowing if the expansion will affect the Earth…or even destroy it. He does say, though, that there will not be any immediate impact.
Mika and Nakai are alone in the grad school…room. Nakai notices that Mika is lost in thought and…shoots his shot. Whoa whoa…okay, so he admits that he knows next to nothing about her past, but has remained in grad school primarily because he likes her so much? Jeez. Mika thanks him and briefly smiles, but says that she can’t date anyone again. She apologizes. Nakai bows and…leaves.
Takayama returns a few seconds after Nakai leaves. Dang, was she waiting in the hallway for him to leave or was she truly out doing something the whole time? Mika asks Takayama if she is helpless, and Takayama says that she believes so. Takayama admits that she has no experience of her boyfriend disappearing, but that even if Mika can never forget it, she can get over it. Annoyed, Mika retorts that she knows that, and puts her head down. She apologizes, saying that she feels like she is going crazy. Takayama puts her hand on Mika’s head and tries to reassure her.
Outside, Mika asks the voice of Teru whether all of this is due to Emanon. Teru throws the question back at her. Annoyed, she notes that it GUITAR NOISE! AND AGAIN!
Mika and real-life Teru are walking through campus. Mika says that she has not been here in a while. Teru points to the building where his lab is located. His lab for theoretical physics. Mika says that she had been interested in science, and that she could have studied here. Teru tells her that she would have been popular, as there are very few girls. Mika jokingly asks if she should take the exam. Teru offers to take her to the cafeteria and she does the…cafeteria dance. Is this some Manic Pixie behavior?
Mika walks alone down the same street as from the beginning of the movie, but in the opposite direction. Bird calls her and, picking up that she is a little down, says that she can come to the performance at his club, but only if she wants to. Mika agrees, and says that she wants to talk to him a bit.
Mika goes to the club and meets Bird at the bar. She tells him about the things that she has been going through. He already knows about Teru’s voice, and that she knows that is just her delusion. But that other stuff? Her meeting herself? Meeting Teru, but Teru not knowing her?
Then Mika looks to the far end of the stage. Right in the corner in the front…is Mika.
Mika asks Bird if he can see her, and he says that had seen her the whole time. Wait. So he had seen her the entire time, did not seem to be surprised when a second Mika showed up, didn’t say anything, and still does not seem to think that this is odd.
The performance is over. Everyone is gone. Mika is still at the bar, practically in shock. What does this all mean? Bird says that he doesn’t know, that he may be only a clue to something. Mika walks up to them and says that it seems as if she might know more than Mika. And she is willing to explain.
I think that I can end the summary here.
I honestly spent several minutes trying to find the original title, because I refused to believe that it was such an overused and misleading title as Modern Love. But it apparently was モダン・ラブ All right, fine. Whatever.
I will admit that I almost stopped watching this movie almost immediately. The cheap filming quality, the silly voice-over narration on top of random mundane shots, the awkward acting. And, yet, I went back to it. Eventually, I guess that all of the things that initially turned me away actually paid off. Yeah, I had to lean forward instead of sitting back, but I liked it for this movie.
This movie is pretty open about it being a metaphor and allegory about struggling with feelings of loss and uncertainty. And it is also open about it being messy and sometimes disorienting. I will admit that some of my summarizing when Mika encounters Mika was deliberately more confusing than the movie presents it, but it still gets a bit confusing. Yet, I am not sure if fully understanding what is going on is entirely necessary. In fact, perhaps making full sense of it is counterproductive. As Clémence Poésy once said, don’t try to understand it; feel it.
So, I’ll try to talk about feelings, specifically Mika’s feelings. She had been together with Teru for however long and then he suddenly disappeared. She has no idea why and has no way to find out. Unable to come to terms with such an unexpected change to her life, she tries to live the rest of her life as a normal life, but that means holding onto a few things, such as remaining at the grad school when she doesn’t need to. She hears Teru’s voice, which she accepts as just a delusion that gives her comfort. And she sometimes gets nervous when this “delusion” does not respond to her.
Of course, Mika is not completely the same as she was before. She holds onto pieces of the past that keep her from falling into outward despair. Perhaps because her imaginary Teru is neither visual nor tactile, she goes on an app for hookups. It is possible that a hookup may lead to a deeper relationship, but that is not her goal. It is a way to cope. And maybe her statement to Nakai that she cannot be in a relationship may just be a polite way to reject him, but she probably does mean it. The movie does not overtly judge her hookups to be bad or an unhealthy coping mechanism; just something that she does that she would most likely not have done if she were still with Teru. There are implications, but it may be more what the viewer brings into it.
Mika also hangs out with Shige a lot. They are coworkers as well as best friends, though it is unclear which came first. Shige and Teru supposedly have a mutual friend, though it is unclear how well they know each other. It is also shown that Mika knew Shige before Teru, but whether that scene is actually true is questionable. In any case, Shige is…well, Mika’s gay best friend. Did they hang out when Mika was in a relationship Teru? Who knows? Shige’s love-life in the movie is nonexistent, with an unseen boyfriend revealed to be an ex without Mika’s knowledge. I cannot say whether this trope was handled well, but it is a trope and I am not sure what the reason was behind the choice, especially when…well…anyways…Mika and Shige appear to hang out a lot, more than with their other friends. Perhaps it is because they are coworkers, but again, it is unclear which came first. Regardless, they are friends. Sure, Shige can annoy her at times, but he makes her smile, and that is good enough. Also, as a spoiler alert, he doesn’t die.
This is Mika’s life, and she is used to it. Not necessarily happy with it, just used to it. Sometimes she seems content. Just as the movie floats around, Mika just floats aimlessly through life. But two things happen to throw her off. The first is that odd customer who thanks her with a wooden brain. The other is her associate inviting her to attend a performance at her club. The first thing scares her and the second thing brings her joy. Not just happiness, but unfiltered ecstatic joy. These are probably the first two full emotions that she has felt in a while. And then…she meets herself.
What is happening here? Is it just a dream? Is it a multiverse situation? The Teru in Mika’s head says something about going over the wall. What does that mean? A wall in…existence? One might expect Mika to freak out as she did with the wooden brain, but Mika seems to view it more as a puzzle to be solved. If it comes from her own fracturing mind, then perhaps she can think her way through it. If it is real, then there must be an explanation. Otherwise, she will be stuck. Stuck…the way that she has been since Teru disappeared.
Perhaps the sheer impossibility of the situation prevents her from falling apart. And it gives her something to think focus her energies on. She is not just someone who is abandoned, but at the center of her own mystery. Even if it turns out to be just another delusion, then it would be fine. And maybe the possibility of it just being a dream allows her to be relatively calm about what is going on. She certainly seems to act in a few times like it is a dream. Of course, it would simply be easy for it to be dismissed as a dream; something all in one’s head and analyzed to mean whatever you want. This voice of Teru is in her head, like a dream. Perhaps she has been dreaming ever since he disappeared? But is any of this true? What if her screaming was due to her waking up for a brief moment? Realizing that he is gone and not coming back?
The movie starts with a news report about this planet Emanon, and there are various ones throughout the movie. Even though Mika herself does not take much notice of this stuff, she has an indirect connection to it through her professor. Through the reports, however, we can see an obsession with Emanon. On the one hand, it just becomes part of people’s daily lives whether they want it or not. It is like the new normal…ahem. Sometimes, people don’t even think of it. But there are times when it becomes a subject of concern. Is it responsible for the extreme temperatures? Yeah, sure, not human-based pollution, but this other planet.
Professor Maeda claims to not know certain aspects about the planet, even though he is part of the group studying it. Yet, his colleague who goes on television also claims to not know the answer to questions. Particularly concerning questions. So, here is a question: if there is something that you don’t know and cannot control, be it the mystery of why your boyfriend disappeared, the effects of this faraway planet on global warming, or the possibility of a hostile neighboring nation shooting nukes at you, how far are you really willing to go to track down the truth? How important is certainty and closure? What if you were to just…let it go and lived your life…?
Is knowing what happened to Teru preferrable than not knowing if it means that knowing what happened means that knowing that Teru is dead? What if Brit Marling killed Teru with her car? Will knowing that make Mika feel better? Perhaps feeling worse is preferable to feeling nothing, but what if it is really really really bad? What if apathy is the only thing keeping Mika alive? What about hope? Not hope that Teru will come back, but hope that Mika can withstand the worst or sustained uncertainty? What if it is her trying to hold onto Teru that is holding her back and keeping her down?
This new year brings uncertainty, similar to the previous years. There has been so much loss, and it can be difficult to tell how many of the victories will stick or be effective. After all of this, how much of the anger and sadness can freeze up into apathy? I think that I was probably trying to go somewhere with this, but I forgot. In any case, this is a good movie.
WTF ASIA 195: Fagara (Hong Kong: 2019, approx. 118 minutes)
WTF ASIA 196: The Outlaws (South Korea: 2017, approx. 122 minutes)