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Love's Layers: Oki Hiroyuki's Inside Heart (Kokoro no Naka)
Screened at the 1999 Tokyo Gay and Lesbian Film Festival

Julie Turnock

Someone asks, talk about your love. How do you even begin? If you are
Japanese and queer, is it even possible? Several recent Japanese films have
explored the theme of verbally uncommunicative young people, but none have
treated the subject with a narrative as aggressively visual as Oki Hiroyuki,
one of Japan's most experimental young filmmakers. Oki Hiroyuki's most
recent film, Inside Heart, (Kokoro no Naka) the only Japanese-language film
screened at this year Tokyo Gay and Lesbian Film Festival, attempts to
describe love in almost purely visual cinematic language. The director has
created a challenging film where visual cinematic layers overlap to attempt
to replicate the accumulated effects of the multiple strands created by
human thinking and emotion. The main characters of the film are two young
gay men. Although their thoughts and emotions are made perhaps more complex
via a same-sex relationship, Oki's conceptualization can easily be extended
to any form of human love. The aggregate impression to the viewer becomes a
widely relevant portrait of the complex connection joining cognition,
sexuality and love.

What can be loosely called the plot of the movie, or at very least the
linking visual reference for the film, is the unedited, single-shot story
of a making of a movie that begins the film. In the (optically) clearest
portion of the film, two young men are in front of the camera, sitting on a
beach. An off-camera voice, presumably that of the director, gives the
actors loose direction. He also asks them how they want to show their
deaths. He says, talk about your love. However, for most of the
remainder of the film (about 1-1/2 to 2 hours), no words are spoken as the
tide slowly comes in and covers their bodies with water.

There is far from nothing going on. The organization of the visual elements
of the film, and how those elements build to produce meaning, create the
film's principal metaphor. Over the first image of the young men on the
beach, the only constant story, the viewer sees and processes two or
three, sometimes as many as four transparencies of other images. Some of
these images are brief and faint, some more sharp and sustained. The layers
of images appear to portray the inner feelings, the inside heart of the
characters minds. As images flash or wander across the screen, a vivid
picture emerges of the many plies that pass in a human brain at the same
time with varying attention, and the way these layers build and interconnect
to form one's thoughts on a subject, for example, love.

As a graduate of architecture from Tokyo University, it should not be
surprising that Oki is interested in exploring the connections between
architecture, film, and life. In an interview with Documentary Box (1998
no. 11), architecture frequently is mentioned. When asked about the
connection, Oki says that film and architecture both produce, “a total image
of the relation of society and the individual. Architecture emerges, in
this interview, as Oki's dominant metaphor framing his experience of the

In the film itself, these very abstract thoughts are given form to
graphically interpret the building metaphor. Home-movie like memory
images, for example of family reunions, old girlfriends, mom and dad, build
upon media images, such as bikini girls, NHK-style travelogues, art work, TV
dramas, and gay male porn. On top of that, the editing layers banal scenes
of everyday life--people walking on the street and hanging out at home—to
rather charged nature scenes of mountains, fields, water, and trees. When
asked to think about something as complex as one'slove for another person,
the film shows how the many strands of family, society, lust, tradition,
media, and symbols play a part in what that comprises, and the accumulated
factors that shade every thought. Filmstrips that have been colorized, or
scratched, or run askew to the screen convey a filtered and distorted
feeling to the thoughts.

The very small snatches of spoken word throughout the film underline, rather
than replace, the more important visual effects. In the middle, one man
asks the other, are you sleeping? to no response. In the last few
minutes, after the tide has come in and washed over the boys bodies, they
stop acting and sit up, looking expectantly at the camera/director. The
off-camera voice says, “It’s about what's in my heart, and a little later,
I wonder what kind of words are kept silent? With these words, the
director has acknowledged the impossibility of the direction he made at the
beginning, talk about your love. The Lover's suicide plot alluded to at
the beginning feels more like an artificial framing device used to lend an
unneeded melancholic mood to the images. The images are highly relevant
without the added element of false poignancy.

Though in many ways this film feels like it is depicting a very
Japanese-inflected version of queer sexuality, it also offers a broader
representation of cognition that feels very accurate. Oki's previous films
have also featured queer subjects (Ecstasy no Namida 1997, I Like You, I
Like You Very Much 1995) and his films are frequently shown in gay contexts
such as gay and lesbian film festivals all over the world. Oki himself
eschews the term “gay filmmaker as a Western tack-on label that only has
something but not everything to do with his films. Although he describes
his reticence (in the Documentary Box interview) to embrace the label as a
Japanese way of relating to the concept of an oversimplified gay identity,
Oki has been a juror at foreign gay and lesbian film festivals and has
rather a lot to say on the subject. Continuing on with his architecture
metaphor, Oki has said that he is interested in exploring how sexuality in
Japan, as a different structure,” especially in the way it plays out
between public and private. Inside Heart shows Oki's belief in the way
sexuality, architecture, and filmmaking are “all tangled up together, as
they are an intersection of the personal and the social.

The widely-held sentiment that Japanese public discourse tends to ignore or
marginalize queer issues makes viewing Inside Heart both interesting and
frustrating. Interesting because it lends a visual manifestation of what
Japanese sexuality might look like, and more specifically Japanese queer
sexuality. However, it is frustrating that this film was the only
Japanese-language film screened at this year of Gay and Lesbian Film
Festival. This paucity unfortunately reinforces the misconception that
queer issues originate abroad and are a foreign problem. However, it more
hopefully suggests that queer Japanese cinema has a lot of room to expand,

and Oki has opened a cinematic tradition that will extend into the future.

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