May 4, 2008
Naomi Kawase's Embracing is both an evocation of, and disjunction from, Jonas Mekas's diaristic memory films, a journey in search of a lost past through the empty spaces and resigned silence of an unreconciled - and incomplete - present. This sense of absence and longing is revealed in the film's opening sequence: the sight of a traditional Japanese domestic setting (and reinforced by a shot montage of meal preparation), prefaced by a lighted sign for a restaurant called "Bar Happiness", that is juxtaposed against an audio recording of Kawase's unseen maternal relative who expresses her resistance at Naomi's intention to search for her biological father who had abandoned the family, briefly alluding to Naomi's separation from her mother following her parents' divorce and adoption by her great uncle and aunt, Kaneishi and Uno Kawase. By framing her well-intentioned aunt's argument for the integrity of the extended family support system that has nurtured Naomi throughout her entire life (and the potential fissures that may unwittingly be introduced into that fragile network by dredging up the past) through the image association (and dissociation) of happiness, home, and absence, Kawase metaphorically illustrates her essential disconnection with a lost, untold history. Incorporating alternating images of nature - flowers in bloom, insects in the field, and verdant landscapes - with contemporary images of her adoptive mother as the two look for information on her father's identity through family archives and photo albums, Kawase introduces the idea of nature as an eternal, but mutable representation of human cycles. This intersection is further reinforced in a picture of Kawase's biological parents, Kiyonobu Yamashiro and Emiko Takeda as a young couple that cuts to a shot of a flower in bright sunlight, that is subsequently contrasted to the image of a similar row of flowers against the darkness of forming rain clouds as her great aunt remembers the unpleasantness of her parents' break-up. Moreover, using high contrast to frame an episode featuring a little girl playing with a tadpole in a puddle of water, Kawase not only illustrates this symbiotic relationship between nature and human history, but also conveys the sense of rupture intrinsic in the idyllic image - the apparent absence of the child's mother. Revisiting her biological father's life by tracing his residential registration records over the past twenty years, Kawase places corresponding photographs from her own childhood, initially, as a figurative bridge between past and present within a depopulated landscape, then subsequently, as a reflection of the physical and emotional separation between father and daughter (a distance that is also symbolized by the recurring images of shadows against the landscape). Restless, curious, and impulsive in its fractured images, Embracing becomes an integral representation of Kawase's own search for identity: told, not through loosely interrelated pieces of an obscured personal history, but in the unarticulated silence of a brief, but transformative connection with the living present.