The winner of FIDMarseille International Competition, as well as the recipient of its Best Actress award in that category, Haruhara San’s Recorder proves an appropriate choice for the festival’s (basically) top prize, speaking to this year’s apparent curatorial themes and adhering to a pace not dissimilar to that of jury president Lav Diaz. The fourth feature from Japanese director Kyoshi Sugita, whose work has yet to gain traction or distribution in North America, Haruhara San’s Recorder tracks as the work of a filmmaker with a developed sensibility of their own, a mix of rigorous, mostly stationary camerawork with an unpunctuated structure, scenes flowing in and out of one another without ever pausing for exposition or context.
This choice in narrative stylization is at least in part inspired by the nature of the source material Sugita has adapted for this film (his previous features do appear to be constructed similarly), a tanka of the same title. Poems of this traditionally Japanese genre (when not translated/Romanized) are written out as a single uninterrupted line of 31 syllables, something Haruhara San’s Recorder is consciously trying to approximate through the gentle flow of its screenplay and the unassuming nature of each cut. Setting the tone and rhythm of what’s to come, the film introduces Chika Araki as a young woman moving into a new apartment, Haruhara San’s Recorder picking up right as she is receiving the keys from the previous tenant who has no interest in leaving a forwarding address or being contacted following this transaction. Peculiar, but never threatening necessarily, Sugita’s script leaves that and many other such moments to hang, implying conflict and development that won’t manifest, never quite providing us with enough information to make out a sensible continuity without shifting over into the surreal or fantastical. Shot digitally in very bright, 1:33 compositions, Haruhara San’s Recorder does bear some resemblance to home video footage, which combined with the refusal of conventional plotting, often colors the proceedings as candid; moments that we are quietly allowed to peek in on. We catch glimpses of screwball-esque domestic dispute, brief jaunts to the café, instances of performance and painting and filming (while the film’s title most immediately refers to the instrument, Sugita inevitably has some fun with double meanings); the only signal that time is passing being Araki’s eventual change of hair color. Its possible none of these scenes would be particularly cinematic were they played out in full, but Sugita has culled the poetic from day-to-day life (again, a theme that populates much of the FIDMarseille lineup this year), stitching them back into something that escapes mundane logic for something more emotional and lyrical. A curious film deserving of this jury’s praises, Haruhara San’s Recorder stands out as an intelligent reimagining of cinematic storytelling, one with a radical idea of how to move past the usual rigidity of narrative and out into something more fluid and evocative.
Published as part of FIDMarseille 2021 — Dispatch 2.