Problematic Subjectivity in Kairo and License to Live


Modern Japan

Jackson, Jr.


Without A Theme


D.J. Anderson

One Two Three Four Five

Here’s another excellent midquarter.
My feedback is in dark red.

Problematic Subjectivity in Kairo and License
to Live

Problematic Subjectivity inKairo and
to Live

One of the characteristics of the „post-modern“ is an
awareness of the conditions of subjectivity in post-industrial economic/political/social
life; in the place of a unified „self,“ a person as a coherent, continuous
whole, the individual is looked upon as a subject, an incomplete
work-in-progress, constituted by a divided psychic structure that is never
fully knowable, and formulated by the relations of the structures (of knowledge,
of language, of discourse) in which the subject exists. [Wonderful
summation and introduction. The thing that would make it perfect is an
omnibus footnote, directing the reader to some seminal works that might
for a basis for your synopsis. They don’t have to be texts that you directly
learned this from either- your summary reflects the general intellectual
atmosphere. The omnibus footnote can do this more programmatically which
would be invaluable for the newcomer to it all.]
films Kairo (Pulse) [The
first citation of a film title must be followed by year of release in parentheses,
and in cases where you haven’t just mentioned the director’s name, that
goes in the parenthesis before the year]
and Ningen Gokaku
(License to Live) are both concerned with problems of subjectivity
face their characters
; Kairo, with the relations
between subjects as mediated through technology, Ningen Gokaku,
with the ways in which a subject can relate in the face of a problematic
relation to history [the „relate“ and „in relation
to“ become awkward. Your point excellent however. I’d try to fix the second
one to form a more vivid parallel, if possible.].
This essay
will explore these problems of subjectivity,
; [I will borrow from Japanese the tripartite
categories of „subject“: the grammatical subject (shugo); the epistemological
subject (shukan); and the subject in relations to others (shutai).]
the Japanese conception of the 3 different subjectivities: grammatical,
epistemological, and in relation to others. [You
need a footnote citing sources here.]

„Subjectivity,“ as explained
[This passive is unnecessary,
clumsy and confusing. Here’s my fix: The linguist Emile Benveniste defines
„subjectivity“ as ]
Emile Benveniste,
„the capacity of the speaker to posit himself as
ësubject.í It is definedÖ as
. . . [Subjectivity is] the psychic
unity that transcends the totality of the actual experiences it assembles
and that makes the permanence of the consciousnessÖ [If
these are ellipses marked in the text then single spaced is correct. If
they are ellipses you
are adding they must be double-spaced apart: . . . ] „
is the emergence in the being of a fundamental property of language. ëEgoí
is he who says ëego.í“ (Benveniste 224). In this definition we can
see the three facets of the Japanese conception of subjectivity; the grammatical
subject („Ö property of language“), the epistemological subject („Ö the
psychic unity that transcends the totality of the actual experiencesÖ“)
and the subject in relation to others. [Great!
But where is the third one exactly. I think you should point each out directly.]

The grammatical subject, „shugo,“ is the subject in language [Careful!
Stick to cut-and-dry technical language. It is the grammatical subject
or the subject of the sentence. „Subject in language“ sounds Lacanians
and would indeed refer to all us in our positioning within the Symbolic
and our ongoing re-realization of subjectivity as an effect of the signifier.
Keep the lid on shugo.]
, or more specifically the subject
of the sentence [I think it’s best to call it
the ‚grammatical subject.“ For most languages we’d deal with „grammatical
subject“ and „subject of sentence“ can be considered interchangeable. But
there are languages that depart from the nominative/accusative system,
using instead an absolutive/ergative system.].
The epistemological
subject, „shutan [shukan],“
is the subject of knowledge, that experiences the world, the subject of
perception [This syntax makes „the subject of
perception the appositive to „the world“ you certainly don’t mean that.].
subject-in-relation-to-others, „shutai,“
non-English words].
is the subject as determined by the subjectís
position within a system, within discourse [No.
That’s a Lacanian subject. This is a subject in concrete interpersonal,
intrasocial relations to other persons. Quite literally. And where are
your sources? You need them with concepts like these].
these definitions/demarcations of subjectivity in mind, I will now turn
to analyzing the films.


Kairo is a horror movie about disconnection and
distance between people. As it begins, a group of workers at a plant service
worry [Wrong! How does it begin? The beginning
is a frame that should not be ignored.]
about their friend,
who hasnít shown up for work. When one [Characters
names with the actor’s full name in parenthesis. Internet movie database
and the Charisma site I’ve linked to us will help you.]
to visit him, he commits suicide, without an apparent motive. Another person
in the film logs on to the internet for the first time, and is taken to
a strange website that features video of people alone in their rooms in
various states of misery and asks „would you like to meet a ghost?“
[Semi runon and he doesn’t get onto the Internet by himself. It refuses
him then activates itself.]
More people commit suicide, and
strange phantoms appear; a team of computer programmers theorize that the
spirit world is full [One graduate student spins
that theory. We don’t see anyone else espouse it.],
and the
dead need somewhere else to go [You’re conflating
that kid’s theory with events in the narrative.],
and so are
returning to this world. When a normal person encounters a phantom, they
are filled with terror, and eventually commit suicide or disappear from
existence [If they look the phantom directly in
the face.].
Soon most of the world has fallen victim to this
terror, a terror articulated as a feeling of extreme loneliness, and the
belief that this loneliness will persist forever after death [That
is focalized through the one woman’s neurosis that predates the crisis.].

Kairo is thus concerned primarily with the shutai,
or the subject in relation to others [Excellent!].
The people in this film are confronted with an unbridgeable distance between
subjects, embodied within their loneliness [Why
all of a sudden?];
the characters in this movie who die seem
to be terrified into non-existence by the idea that they will be forever
lonely[You’re confusing that one woman’s neurosis
with the plight of those who lingered in the forbidden room. Once they’ve
seen the ghost, the complain of being cold, being afraid, and having seen
a horrible face. I don’t recall any of them expressing the fear of eternal
loneliness in this condition.]
forever disconnected from society,
unable to relate to other people. Faced with this ultimate realization
of alienation, the characters actually disappear from existence [Some
of them do that the old fashioned way.]
, as they are unable
to maintain a coherent existence; with the disappearance of the other
[This is great but I’d slap a capital „O“ onto that baby.],
the impossibility of communicating with the other [But
not onto this baby – this one I’d keep small.]
becomes impossible, and they retreat into a pre-conscious [This
seems unduly Freudian-technical and unwarranted. They die. The preconscious
is a system within a fully functioning living human being.]
of nothingness, withdraw into a pre-imaginary psychic nonexistence [A
condition, more commonly known as „death“.],
and in the world
of the film lose even their material, corporeal existence, and turn into
a ghost [Yep. They die.].

This whole process is mediated through the internet, the
place of unreal, imaginary connections [Actually
notice how little the Internet actually functions in the film? We only
see one of the characters in the intial stages of contact through the Internet
and all he does is turn the machine off. We never see anyone actually using
the Internet for communicating or anything else. We see a computer turned
on to view a victim’s software, but that’s not the Internet. And the most
frequent vectors of ghost/human contact are in the „Forbidden Rooms“ whose
only technology is the red tape around the door.]
. Kairo
is translated as Pulse, [No. The English
title is „Pulse“ but „Pulse“ isn’t a translation of Kairo. „Kairo“ doesn’t
mean „pulse“.]
but a closer translation would be „The Circuit;“
is a word for the Internet, and circuit is a close approximation in English.
The iInternet
is a global telecommunications network capable of disseminating and transmitting
data to others. People can communicate with each other over the iInternet
[Except we never see this happen in the film] through
messages, static images, and digitized video [The
text and the static images are also „digitized.“].
On the iInternet,
however, you canít communicate with a „real“ person
[What! I do all the time. I’m communicating (hopefully) with you right
now. Iím real. You’re real. The people out there reading this off of their
monitor screens are real.]
only the technological representation
of a person; often, the „person“ you are communicating with is a fictional
construct in your mind [Really? You must have
a different ISP. I tend to communicate with real people myself.]

(not that subjects arenít fictions or constructed, but in iInternetcommunication
this problem is exacerbated; people can represent themselves however they
wish on the iInternet
still „real“],
as there is no real [this
adjective is going to wear out its welcome.]
way of knowing
what they look like unless you know them in person [That’s
true over the phone too but that doesn’t make the caller any less real.],
without a history you canít determine what that person is like [And
can you in a slowtime interface? Why?].
Internet communication
is also often person-to-person[which is real2real];
you are unable to experience being with a person in a social context [That
IS a social context. One other person is a social context all by itself,
but remember even with the one on one the social is there in the Internet
connection, the „public“ space of the mediation, etc etc. You’re restriction
seriously damages the conception of shutai.]
, unable
to observe them in relation to and with others). As a tool for creating
intersubjective relations, the iInternetprovides
a space for a new kind of communication previously impossible; however,
as the film seems to point out, these connections arenít „real,“ and canít
take the place of „real human communication“ ó in the end, you are communicating
with an imaginary person, with no material existence observable, and no
way to physically communicate without the mediation of an alienating technology
that obscures the „real“ person much more than it reveals [Actually
the film never makes this point convincingly nor even attempts to. We have
one or two characters {really only one} who criticizes the Internet along
these lines. But it’s in idle conversation with someone who’s NOT a techie
and has had only two extremely brief encounters with an active online connection.].

The internet is an imaginary system of relations that has no existence
in reality [Tell that to the folks who campaigned
tooth-and-nail for the Communications Decency Act and the brave and sensible
folks who fought to defeat that ACT. Tell that to anyone who is now or
has ever dated someone he or she met online or the people who have formed
online and even offline friendships or the organizations that look for
genetically matching donors for cancer patients. Or tell that to my first
Hysteria and Paranoia seminar. Or tell it to yourself and your colleagues
of the Postmodern Japan Forum ;-). Also stay tuned for the online conversation
Juan Caballero and I are having around an email exchange. It will appear
shortly in Ecrits.]
(other than electrons, photons, and
magnetic charges) and is ultimately, according to the film, unable to create
connections between people. The scene in Kawashimaís bedroom
[His bedroom? That was his whole apartment!!]
with Harue demonstrates
this; she asks him why he got connected to the iInternetinternet
in the first place ó to connect with other people?
does that question „demonstrate“ anything? A question that he doesn’t answer
and never has time to discover.]
Kawashima doesnít really have
an answer, and says he did because everyone else is into it. Harue, replying
to her own answer, says „people donít really connect ó like the dots on
the screen, we all live separate lives.“
certainly was true before the Internet, and seem less true thanks to the
Internet among communities that use it wisely.]

The „ghosts“ of this film exist in a similar fashion as
people [Syntax!] on the internet (though
what „ghosts“ are in this movie is an extremely problematic question).
Ghosts are immaterial, unreal, and unable to exist in a „normal“ relation
to others [Look up ‚yurei“ in a Japanese-English
We first meet „ghosts“ when Kawashima connects
to the internet; the people we see onscreen are called „ghosts,“ though
they are seemingly still alive; these people look and act similar to the
way other characters will later on in the movie after they have been terrorized
by a ghost; lethargic, frightened, or a cold emptiness/blankness of expression
Are they already dead, and merely „haunting“ the place
of their death, or are they preparing to die/commit suicide/disappear?
Later on in the movie, shortly before Harue kills herself, we donít see
any more people on screen at the „ghost“ website
do you mean? When is the last sighting of a ghost on the Internet? The
computers function so rarely in the film, this would be hard to track.
Ill go check this out.]
; if they are gone now, were they still
alive before? [This strikes me as a question the
narrative presuppositions of the film would not support.]
film defies a final interpretation, as there are numerous elisions of data
needed to determine the truth about ghosts
anything else].
I posit, however, that „ghosts“ are people either
in the process of becoming, or in a state of, non-existence[Dying
or Dead you mean?].
Having come to the conclusion that everyone
is solitary and unable to form meaningful connections, these ghosts have
lost the will to live [As long as you use the
word „ghost“ or the word „yurei“ this statement makes no sense. A ghost
is by definition dead, and thus cannot „lose the will to live.“],

to exist as a subject, and eventually cease to exist
already have].
They are thereafter unable to communicate with
anyone; while alive, they refuse eye contact, drift to dark, lonely corners
where they can huddle in a fetal position, and communicate very little
if at all with the living [You’re giving up an
area of semantic precision for no clear strategic or conceptual gain here.].

Once they have „died,“ either through suicide or through just disappearing,
they leave black stains where their bodies last stood (consumed by loneliness,
they leave only ashes, as the ending song might imply), and the only communication
possible are disembodied echoes of „tasukete“ (help me) for the men (the
cell phone call featuring Taguchiís picture [Note
that this is NOT communication. A repetition of a request that takes no
account of anyone’s attempt to respond to such a request is NOT a communication.],
black stain that Michi sees) or a final blood-curdling scream (for the
women ó we hear them while Juncoís black stain disintegrates, and while
the camera looks at the black stains from the woman who jumped off a building
and Harueís stain after Michi takes Kawashima out of the abandoned factory
after his encounter in the forbidden room.) [Those
screams are extra-diegetic. Check out the files I have on the Cinema and
Subjectivity Web site on sound and its divisions according to its relation
to the image track and its relation to the intradiegetic world.]

Although the film does not make a clear distinction between
the two, I would say that there is a difference between „ghosts,“ the people
who are so lonely they cease to exist, and „phantoms,“ or the beings that
are the catalysts of the overwhelming loneliness the ghosts feel [Moving
from giving up a semantic precision into a tentative distinction that is
ungrounded and untested. I’m not sure what will happen here.].
the grad studentís tale is true (and in a supernatural movie such as this
we have no reason not to believe him) [I“d say
we have plenty reason not to believe him, and we don’t know for a fact
that this is necessarily „supernatural“ either.],
these phantoms
are overflow from the realm of death, with nowhere else to exist but the
realm of the living [Doesn’t paraphrasing his
idea show you why we can easily refuse to believe him? It’s not only weird
in the sense of physics, but it’s ripped off from a line from Night of
the Living Dead]..
The text gives no indication of any logic
or plan these phantoms [Maintain a typological
consistency. Ghosts are yurei, phantoms are maboroshi.]
so they are a complete mystery with no recoverable meaning [None
whatsoever? We’re both disproving that at this very minute.]
Their connection to the „would you like to see a ghost?“ website is not
clear; [You’re not using your subject-typology
very extensively. I also suggest you use Benveniste a little more extensively.
I’ll give you a hint why.. Who is the subject of enunication in the onscreen
question, „Would you like to meet a ghost?“]
the grad studentís
story would seem to imply that they spread through the phone lines, specifically
through the iInternet.
Once a computer is hooked up to the iInternet,
remember, he IS a graduate student in Computer Sciences. Doesn’t it seem
only natural that his theory would emerge from within the science he knows?]

opens up a gateway (a circuit
[That’s why the
film is called that.],
perhaps? In electrical terms, a circuit
is merely the course traveled by a current between two batteries. The internet
could function as a circuit between the spirit world and the real world,
allowing the phantoms to traverse from one to the other, or as a way for
the phantoms to spread around, terrorizing people into becoming ghosts
latter supposition does not naturally follow from the premise])

and allows the phantom in, or at least a method; the computer brings up
a web screen with videos of the ghosts [What makes
you think they’re videos of the ghosts. What you just said would mean that
they are literally in the computers.],
and prints out instructions
for the construction of the forbidden room. Thus the rooms with red tape
are circuits, allowing the phantoms to be summoned into them through a
sort of phantom network ó a phantom Kairo (which would explain why
Michi would be safe on a boat, and why there would still be people in Latin
America ó the internet is not available on the boat, and not very widespread
in poorer countries, so there would be less of a chance for someone to
construct a red-tape room [I’d gather my facts
before making these statements Homework assignment: find statistics on
the extent of Iinternet use in South America. Where did the Captain mean
by „Latin America“ anyway?]).
As for why the phantoms would
go through all of this trouble just to create more dead, we can turn to
the screen-saver dots in the computer lab, programmed by the grad student
to represent human relations [Right that’s why
your conclusion above doesn’t derive from the premises. And another reason
not to believe the grad student.].
If two dots come too close
they are erased, yet if they get too far apart they are pulled back together
how he programmed it – it’s an artificial life experiment. That tendency
he programmed into the system is not a ghost-related aberration, but the
contradiction within human relations.]. See a Clauds Emmeche article on
the semiotics of artficial life experiments., by clicking THIS>
before the full-scale disappearance of 99% of the city, the program begins
to act abnormally; a dot that „resembles a ghost“ flickers in an out of
existence, that has an amorphous shape that continually grows and contracts,
is working its way across the screen, „eating“ up other dots without disappearing
itself; these other dots disappear while it remains [Are
you sure? Look at it again.].
Something similar occurs in real-life
experiences with the phantoms; they mysteriously appear out of the dark
corners of forbidden rooms, walk slowly across the room, flickering and
distorted, accompanied by various computer sounds (including a distorted
modem), and make contact with a soon-to-be ghost [They
flicker when represented on the screen but do they do that before people’s
naked eyes?]
. While it is impossible to be certain of what
happens, Kawashimaís encounter with a „phantom“ (though it denies its status
as a phantom [semantic precision please])
may provide clues. The phantom appears, and says „ForeverÖ death wasÖ eternal
lonelinessÖ helpÖ helpÖ helpÖ“ Kawashima refuses to believe it is real,
and so rushes it in an attempt to dispel it. The phantom does turn out
to have a material existence, however, and once Kawashima touches the phantom
he gets the same look on his face [But you skipped
the very punchline that you seemed to be introducing.]
the rest of the ghosts had; the camera cuts at that point, so it is uncertain
if anything else goes on. Kawashima, however, does eventually disappear
just as the rest of the ghosts do. This disappearance may not necessarily
be a true „death,“ however; it could be a total dissolution of consciousness/soul,
ensuring that another spirit does cannot try to enter the realm of death,
and with the near-total destruction of the human race that was achieved
by the end of the movie, achieving a goal of no more spirits to add to
the finite space of the dead [Yet another good
reason not to believe the grad student.].
Or, if Harue is to
be believed [But she’s loonier than a Warner Brothers
it is a sort of non-death, [It
seems pretty much like a death-death to me, as does your description here.]

a corporeal dissolution but a spiritual/psychic retreat from the world;
an implosion of the psyche into itself, a total blackout of communication
with the outside world, trapped in an eternity of loneliness. [A
retreat from the world? They keep trespassing and loitering with intent!]

To get back to the point of this essay, an encounter with
the phantom sets into motion a negation of subjectivity; the realization
of a horrific state of loneliness undermines the entire psychic structure,
causing a collapse of the Symbolic order and an entry into a kind of suicidal
psychosis [Very interesting!] . An
encounter with the Phantom is an encounter with the Real („I am Real“ ó
though that is a mistranslationÖ[It sure is and
as such is not helpful at all. Include what he said not what he didnít
ó a realization of the arbitrariness of the Symbolic,
of the impossibility of a fulfilling relationship with the Other in a subjectivity
founded on an essential unfulfillable lack, of the hopelessness of Desire
D. J. this is super-duper!] ,
leading to the collapse of the
ego. Kairo, in the end, is a text that seems to refuse any final
interpretation [But you just interpreted it!],
as it introduces so many contradictions and leaves out so much that it
is practically unintelligible [Hm?].
There are certain themes that circulate throughout the film, however; the
ultimate alienation and separation of human lives, and the exacerbation
of their loneliness as mediated through the iInternetó
a relation of unreal [I’d drop this adjective
from your critical vocabulary for two reasons: {1} It is inaccurate to
describe the encounters on the Internet as unreal (in the non-technical
sense) {2} The use of „unreal“ makes it more difficult to use the Lacanian
concept of the Real intelligibily.],
uncertain, digitized subjects
with other similarly alienated/abstracted/imagined [I“d
drop „imagined“ for a similar reason]

License to Live is more concerned about the shutan[shukan]
of a certain subject [shukan means subject so
this means „a subject of a certain subject“ – that won’t work.],

the way he[s/he]
deals with the world as he[s/he]
perceives it and how his[his
or her]
history relates to his[his
or her]
perception, though it also deals with his relation to
society in general and those around him in particular [Oh
you literally mean the protagonist. In that case the masculine pronoun
is fine. But notice how your phrasing led me to read it as a general subject.
But your use of shukan as a part of a subject, a subject that you do not
define, is leading you astray. Let’s unpack this later. And remember not
to project how we as adults might feel about losing 10 years we had actually
Yutaka did not experience the ten years he slept through. Some of the concerns
you sketch here don’t seem immediately relevant to his situation, of course,
I should reserve judgement until you have presented your case. Even so,
the terminology needs to be laid down more clearly and the distinctions
among the subject types kept distinct otherwise there’s no point in importing
them. And you still need sources for these terms.].
The film
revolves around Yutaka Yoshii, and his attempts at starting life anew after
waking up from a 10-year coma. He was hit by a car when he was 13, and
entered a coma that lasted until he was 23. [14
and 24]
He awakes to find a world drastically different from
the one he previously occupied [Really? He doesn’t
seem to notice after his two questions, he dumps the history books and
video tapes, and nothing else seems to displace him temporally. He keeps
his purview local.];
though he is not concerned with the worldwide
events that took place [Do you know a 14-year
old who is?],
he is troubled over the breakup of his family,
and his relation to the past he lost and canít recover [What
does he say about „what he lost“ while he was still in the hospital?].

He returns home with a friend of his fatherís, Fujimori, and tries to recover
his previous life by re-building the dude ranch his family used to own
. Although he is successful at rebuilding the dude ranch, and even brings
his family back together [Well, this is a bit
of a stretch. The father is televised from a red cross station off the
coast of madagascar and the family turns the audio off on him.],
realizes that he is trying to re-capture the past he lost, and decides
it is time to move on [Where do you see this in
the film? What does „move on“ mean to him, and how do we know? Are you
suggesting he deliberately let himself be killed? And the „realization“
that he was trying to recapture the past seems like simple cogition of
the obvious. He’s not nostalgic remember and his mother and his sister
descend on that house of their own accord, he did not summon them. And
they leave.].
After this moment of clarity, however, he is crushed
by a pile of refrigerators and killed. [You’re
playing fast and loose with the chronologies – I’m assuming the „moment
of clarity“ refers to his epiphany during his fight with the creep who
hit him in the car. But we are never told what he realized. It is also
not clear how much time elapsed between that night and the return of Fujimori.
The way you write it here implies that Yutaka decided to die that night
and the refrigerator accident was no accident.]

License to Live is about the hermeneutics of trauma;
about how Yutaka-as-shutan[shukan]
comes to terms with his coma-as-trauma
The coma wasn’t traumatic because he was never conscious of it. Compare
the post-traumatic lives of the people in Eureka, and their consciousness
of the trauma in question. This makes it difficult to characterize Yutaka’s
situation in this way I think. And we don’t know anything about any neurological
or cognitive difficulties he might have because of the coma – they’re never
mentioned. This would be what would affect the shukan, and that would be
an effect of the coma, which is not the same thing as a relation between
his cognitive capacities and his „history“ – he didn’t have a history for
those ten years.]
how his view of the past is changed as he
works through his post-traumatic life, how he struggles to find a place
for himself in the role he was forced into, how he struggles to accept
his history [What history? He never dwells on
events in the past or reconstructs stories of the past. He lives entirely
in the present, but he makes that present resemble the present he last
recognized, which happens to be 10 years old. Remember and take more seriously
his assessment of his situation while he was still in the hospital.]

, how his relation to his past is changed by the relations he has with
other people in his present. In this part of the essay I will place License
to Live
in dialogue with an essay by Angelika Rauch, titled „Post-Traumatic
Hermeneutics: Melancholia in the Wake of Trauma.“ [Full
information please]

Rauch begins with a Lacanian conception of hermeneutical
change; an „assumption of history“ is a fundamental principle of psychoanalysis.
It is an

„Ö acknowledgement by the subject that he is historically
in process, and that one cannot simply confront events that happened in
the past as if these events were unmediated by subsequence experiences
that shift their valencies and change their meaningÖ the assumption of
historicity by the subject can be achieved only in relation to an other,
that is, by means of an interlocution with the analyst.“ (111-112).

[This is fascinating but I also
see in this precision the reasons why this situation is not readily applicable
to Yutaka. I’d hangon to this for something, but let’s look at this critically.
This is interesting.]



Since subjectivity is historically in process, and over time
a subject will be restructured, „trauma will undergo a shift in meaning
as this resubjectification takes placeÖ“ (113). [Sure
but he hasn’t experienced a trauma. Read Rauch’s definition of trauma.]
can only change, however, in relation to others, in dialogue with others
about the trauma as a common ground is built between two people dealing
with the memory of the trauma [Again another reason
it doesn’t fit Yutaka. No one shared his coma.].

„Ö healingÖ can be done only through the intervention
of an other person ó if not, by extension, another historical or cultural
context ó in whom the subject can inscribe his experience with the help
of the otherís words. By subjecting oneís mental representations or memories
to the configurations of unfamiliar signs, another experiential construction
emerges as figure; hence an altered horizon of imagination prepares the
subject for a new historical experience, rather than constantly reliving
a fixated past in the present.“ (115).

[Again a great quote. This one
really explains Eureka – the bus trip!]

She then turns to a theory of a kind of epistemological melancholia
that revolves around this theory of hermeneutic psychoanalysis. According
to Jacques Hassoun,

is defined as an experience of loss in the absence of the personís knowledge
of fantasy of what is lost. Unlike Cathy Caruthís concept of ëunclaimed
experience,í which presupposes a knowledge of the fantasy about what is
lost but cannot be claimed, Hassounís concept of melancholia stresses the
absence of such knowledge altogetherÖ ëmelancholiaí is the emotional attachment
to an unmastered, ungrasped other in hitherto unconscious experience. The
other is felt as unmasterable affect and, as such, coincides with the shock
experience of trauma.
Finally, she relates melancholia to trauma and relates a
possible avenue of treatment;

given the rise of trauma studies, we can agree that unincorporated suffering
or unbound affect turns a personís history into pathology, then the pathological
or ëpatheticí (from Greek: pathein) quality of experience and its memory
in repetitive affects, rather than indicating a clinical label for disturbance,
signifies the temporal structure of experience per se, in the sense
of Walter Benjaminís Erfahrung which implies an uncompleted process
that awaits belated completion before it can be incorporated into the self.
Before such a completion of experience in the present, that is, before
the affect can finally be bound in a belated image, the subject vis-à-vis
her desire remains fixated on the past. This desire may be turned into
a compulsion to repeat for the sake of bringing about the satisfaction
of a merger between affect and signifying image. However, in the absence
of this synthesis, the subject remains in a melancholic state, not able
to detach from what is lost and experienced as traumatic, and hence not
able to interpret the past constructivelyÖ an awareness of loss must be
established and symbolized if the subjectís psyche is to reconnect with
its soma and give up the narcissistic fantasy of being an ideal ego to
itself. (118.)
[Wow now I can see how this formula
really does resonate with Yutaka’s mystery of life! Excellent eye!]

We can see this entire process at work in Yutakaís post-coma
life, as he goes through the stages of recovery. After waking up, he tries
to learn about some of the world history he missed, but eventually gives
up. Fujimori tells him to keep reading them, that heíll have a hard time
when he leaves and he should try to get back what he lost. Yutaka replies:
„Get what back?Ö The ten years?Ö What about the ten years?Ö What I lost?
What exactly did I lose? If I donít even know what I lost, how can I get
it back?“ [See this is the soliloquy I meant that
is so important. I’m afraid we’ll have to agree to disagree on this one.
I see his not knowing what he lost as the very opposiite of melancholia.
You’re reading his question as rhetorical. I’m reading it literally.]

This fits with the description of melancholia above as an unrecoverable
loss; the emotional attachment to his past will be signified later [His
attachment is to the present. He has no access to the past, cant identify
with it or identify it as a lace of origin or return.].

He returns home still reeling from the post-traumatic
shock of waking from the coma [This is an observation
that is sort of de fault, we might expect this would be true, but distinguish
this „probability“ from what actually happens on-screen];
doesnít move or speak very much, and doesnít show much emotion; he just
sits around until his father comes home, although he does inquire into
the fate of the dude ranch and the ponies his family used to own, and ends
up finding an old horse that has wandered onto his property. He keeps the
horse at his house, tying it to a post. At this point his plans arenít
revealed yet, but this may be the moment in which Yutaka decides to try
and start up the dude ranch again. The horse functions as an important
signifier ó perhaps the melancholic object [Hey
this is really good ;-)!]
that represents Yutakaís past. He
seems to establish a bond with the horse, and the horse plays a big role
in the events to come.

Yutakaís sister comes to live at the ranch for a while,
but is thrown out of the house when she suggests to Yutaka that they sell
the property ó „what about the dude ranch?“ [Not
true. Her first visit was not part of her living there. That came much
later. And the fight isn’t shown in full but we know that his sister’s
laughing at the idea of the dude ranch made him very angry. Remember too
however that this was the anger of a fourteen-year old boy.]

commitment to the dude ranch is the emotional attachment to the past that
completes the definition of melancholia above [The
definition of melancholia was already „complete“. A situation in a film
cannot „complete“ a definition of a concept.].
Yutaka is attached
to the past [No, he’s not], unable
to let it go [I think this is projecting adult
reactions and priorities onto an effective fouteen-year old.],
to move beyond the trauma of his coma [He moves
beyond them almost immediately.]
and the lost years, unable
to move past his trauma and get on with his life [And
do what, exactly?].
While all of this is going on [All
what, exactly?],
Fujimori is trying as best he can to drag Yutaka
out of his melancholia and back into the real world; he discourages the
class reunion, drags Yutaka to an erotic massage parlor, and tries to teach
Yutaka how to drive, all of which Yutaka fails [Yutaka
doesn’t „fail“ at the class reunion. And he doesn’t „fail“ at the massage
parlor. The driving lessons, I grant you.] .
Fujimori finally
realizes that Yutaka has to work through his melancholia himself, that
Yutaka must go through his re-creation of the past that he is planning
in order to see that it doesnít work, and gives up trying to force Yutaka
to grow up [Fujimori never looks at Yutaka in
psychoanalytic terms, which is good since the head injury he sustained
is not a psychosis And where is the melancholia? He hangs onto nothing.].
must break off his melancholic ties to the past himself, but Fujimori aids
this by giving Yutaka another perspective, acting as the other that adds
his perspective, [You’re mixing in Bruce Fink
and semiotics but not identifying either and getting at least one of them
somewhat diluted, and no one outside of a trained psychoanalyst could deliberately
serve as the Other for someone.]
thereby inducing a semiotic
change in Yutakaís subjectivity; Yutaka as a subject-in-relation to Fujimori
is changed, thereby starting the change in subject-of-epistemological-knowledge
This phrase is redundant, find out why.]
teaming these up will
result in road rage and traffic jams. And that will eventually help Yutaka
break away from his past. To this end, Fujimori helps Yutaka rebuild the
dude ranch, but after it is constructed disappears to give Yutaka time
to work things through [Please rewatch. That’s
not why Fujimori disappears.]
Before he goes, he asks „is this really what you want?“ which causes Yutaka
to cry, then hug Fujimori [What is Fujimori referring
to by „this“? Consider this popquiz.]
. By planting the seeds
of doubt, Fujimori hopes to make Yutaka realize that his hope for regaining
his past is impossible [This is a serious error
in reading the film. I know this part of the film is somewhat oblique.
But you don’t have the referent of „this“ right, and this was a crossroads,
and important decision is made. What was it?],
that he needs
to move on.

Yutaka rebuilds the dude ranch, and it actually thrives
for a while. First his mother, then his sister join him at the dude ranch,
and his wish that „If only for a momentÖ just for a momentÖ couldnít we
all be together again?“ sort of comes true ó he regains a family, as his
mother, sister, and her boyfriend all live at the ranch, eating dinner
together like a family [That’s not the wish coming
At one point his absent father is on the news after
his ship collided with another ship on the news. This elicits an acknowledgement
from his mother and sister, and even though he is muted, the family is
together again for one moment, as Yutaka acknowledges by winking at Kasaki
(the boyfriend), who then leaves the room to let the family have their
last moment together [Yes this is the wish coming
Even this familial moment, however, is not completely
satisfactory; „things canít go back to the way they were,“ his mom said
earlier, and the words start to sink in [That’s
out of context. That was much earlier This configuration with the three
of them together and the father reduced to a silenced image is an improvement
on the way things were.].

Yutakaís desire was fixated on the past, as mentioned
above in the Rauch section; he felt a compulsion to „repeat for the sake
of bringing about the satisfaction of a merger between affect and signifying
image,“ and by recreating the dude ranch and bringing his family back together
he begins formulating an awareness of the loss and creating a signifier
for it [This is very good.]. His recovery
is completed through his encounter with Murota. Murota shows up at the
milk bar, and is shocked to see Yutaka, living well and successful, it
seems. [Why „it seems“? That’s what he says!]
Murota complains that this is not how it was supposed to be; Murota gave
up his life, it was ruined by Yutaka, so it is only fair that he ruin Yutakaís
life ó Yutaka isnít supposed to have awakened and regained a happy life.
Yutaka replies that Murota doesnít understand, he isnít happy, and it probably
would have been better if he had never woken up. Later that night Murota
returns with a chainsaw and destroys the milk bar, the fence, and attempts
to go after the horse. Yutaka stood by while he was destroying the ranch,
but wouldnít let Murota destroy the horse (whether it is because the horse
was still important to him as signifier of his past, or if he didnít want
to let Murota kill the horse out of principle is unclear ó probably both).
of course. Yutaka is not at all mysterious.]
He chases Murota
away from the horse, and picks up the chainsaw after Murota drops it. Suddenly,
Yutaka has an epiphany of sorts ó „I came from somewhere, and I will go
somewhere.“ At this point Yutaka has finally broke free of his melancholic
attachment to the past [I don’t think he had one.]
ó he is able to symbolize the dude ranch as the past that he was denied,
he is able to master the affect of his unrecoverable past, and proceeds
to destroy the dude ranch, finally letting go of his melancholic attachment
to the past ó though he keeps the horse intact.

The next day, Fujimori drives up and sees the ranch in
ruins [Is it the very next day?]. He
doesnít comment on this, but asks Yutaka if he can dump some old refrigerators
on the property ó restoring the dude ranch back to its status as Fujimoriís
trash storage heap, coming full circle back to the beginning. Fujimori
asks Yutaka to come with him on a trip, and Yutaka agrees ó he is finally
able to leave his past behind and set out into the realm of future possibility.
Just as they are about to leave, Yutaka remembers the horse ó the signifier
of his past ó and wants to take him along (presumably so that the poor
horse doesnít starve, but also metaphorically as the past he is finally
able to have a normal relation to). The horse (the past), however, refuses
to get on board the truck [Smart horse] (refuses
to cede power to the future), causing Yutaka
to try an alternate approach. He goes to get some gloves, but as he is
walking back to the truck the stack of refrigerators falls on him, paralyzing
him and ultimately killing him. Yutakaís last connection to the past indirectly
causes his death ó in the end, the past is unwilling to let Yutaka escape
from it, even after he has escaped from it [Very
(This has more to do with Kiyoshiís [Who?
You mean Kurosawa?]
sense of style, his unwillingness to let
the audience have a happy ending [It’s more profound
than that.],
his twist-of-fate
gloomy ending preference
[This is beneath
you. You must be tired.],
than it does with Yutakaís melancholia).

In the end, Yutaka undergoes a change in subjectivity
known as „death“]
ó both as an epistemological subject, in how
he looks at and interprets the world, and as a subject in relation to others,
as he is able to open up emotionally to a greater degree as the fabula
advances [Strange mixture of narratological terms
and realistic habits regarding chronological development.].
is able to change his view of his relation to the past, overcome his melancholic
relation to the traumatic lost time of his coma, and find a place for himself
in society (the possibility of one, at least), even if he was killed [Unfortunate
use of the passive here.]
before he could exercise any agency
in his newly earned position [Wow your conclusion
completely contradicts the things you were implying about Yutaka’s „epiphany.“
License to Live is a very difficult film. This is a good midquarter. The
section on Kairo is excellent. And the section on License to Live
has terrific potential and a couple searing insights. Otuskaresama deshita!].

Works Cited

Benveniste, Emile. Problems in General Linguistics.
Trans. Mary Elizabeth Meek. Coral Gables: Univ. of Miami Press, 1971.

Lacan, Jacques. Ecrits: A Selection. Trans. Alan
Sheridan. New York: Norton 1977.

Rauch, Angelika. „Post-Traumatic Hermeneutics: Melancholia
in the Wake of Trauma.“ Diacritics. Vol. 28.4, 1998. Pp. 111-120.

Silverman, Kaja. The Subject of Semiotics. Oxford:
Oxford University Press 1983.

Japan Forum One
Japan Forum Two
Study Guide One Study Guide Two Study Guide Three
Study Guide Four

Modern Japan

Jackson, Jr.


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