Kakera - A Piece of Our Lives does what its title suggests. Kakera presents a slice of life. No grand narrative; no neatly conceived conclusions; just a segment of a relationship between two women, Haru and Riko, as they define their feelings for each other. Shooting with a microscopic attention to detail, first-time director Momoko Ando creates a thoroughly compelling world - beautiful, surreal, romantic and personal - aided by an excellent soundtrack and strong visual sense.
Rumpled and gamine, Haru is an especially engrossing heroine. All expressive eyes and otherworldly charm, she belongs to the Amélie school of little-girl-lost. Just starting out at university, Haru is growing more and more detached from her two-timing, loutish boyfriend, when she meets Riko, a self-assured medical artist working for Tanaka prosthetics. The film follows Haru’s sexual confusion as she tries to decide between Riko and her increasingly obnoxious boyfriend. As a young director (she was born in 1982), Ando perfectly captures the intensity of the women’s age and the excitement of their first, stumbling conversations. But while Amélie praised naive, kooky heroines in a nauseatingly self-congratulatory fashion, Kakera presents the reality of living with Haru’s dreamy drifting. The film explores both the allure of the inexperienced girls and their sometimes hurtful, self-centred behaviour.
The self-absorption of youth is beautifully played out in a subtle scene when a disinterested, distracted Haru leaves a university lecture discussing the oppression of women, only to be confronted with her boyfriend arm-in-arm with another girl. Gender and what it means to be a woman is an important theme underlying the entire film and one of the reasons the work is to premiere at this year’s Raindance Festival, as part of a special strand devoted to women in Japanese cinema. Again, Ando chooses not to present us with a coherent theory but prefers fragmented, conflicting ideas and discussions. Riko, for example, gives a beautiful initial speech on the arbitrariness of gender but later becomes irrationally hostile towards men. Beautiful fireworks enjoyed by Riko and Haru are echoed by aggressive, masculine explosions on television in Haru’s boyfriend’s flat. When the two women first meet, Haru has accidentally given herself a milk moustache while drinking a mug of cocoa while later in the film Haru’s boyfriend is unkind about the hair on her upper lip.
Kakera is all about the pieces that make up the whole: from the prosthetic body parts made by Riko to the chromosomes that determine the difference between men and women. When a distraught Haru eats too many marshmallows, she is advised ‘not to over-eat the food you love. Favourite foods are better eaten a little at a time’. Kakera takes each character little by little, each life slice by slice, allowing us the luxury to come to our own conclusions.
Kakera is part of a strand on Japanese women directors at Raindance. Director Momoko Ando will attend the festival, as well as pink director Sachi Hamano, the most prolific female director in Japan, who will present her 2001 non-pink title Lily Festival. Also showing are the rarely seen Hotaru by the critically-garlanded Naomi Kawase and Yukiko Sode’s distinctive and promising debut Mime-Mime. More information on the Raindance website.