YAMABUKI: The Flower Blooming in Shady Places Becomes The Sun to Itself [IFFR-02]

Yamabuki (2022), the feature film directed by Yamasaki Juichiro, is selected for the 51st edition of the International Film Festival Rotterdam’s (IFFR) Tiger Competition. Co-producer countries being France and Japan, the film is shot on 16mm. This adds some grainy texture and lo-fi feelings to the overall of the movie. We can say that films and shooting techniques should be related to the main theme, since people who watch this film are probably composed not only from regular audiences but also from cinema professionals thanks to shooting plans and visual choices of the film. We watch problems of daily life and while these problems are told to us, we hear ethereal and fairy  background music that oozes to the problems of daily life. One can tell you about the subject of the film as follows; Maniwa is a small town in the mountains of Japan. Chang-Su, who is actually a former Olympic jockey for the South Korea national team, works at a quarry site because of his father’s failed business and therefore he is burdened with huge debts. He lives with Minami and her daughter. In addition to them, Yamabuki is a high school student who lost her mother and lives with her policeman father. She participates in silent standing protests at crossroads. After a while, their lives will intersect with each other.

Yamabuki, which gives its name to the film, means “mountain breeze” and “the mountain rose” in Japanese, and it’s known as “dì táng” in Chinese. According to the legend, the gold coins dropped into a valley transformed into the flowers of Yamabuki. Because of this myth, the meaning of Yamabuki in the language of flowers is “Luck with money”. Yamabuki appeared in Man’yōshū, which is the oldest Japanese anthology of short poems. Also, Qing Dynasty poet Chen Hao (hào) wrote about this flower in his work the Flower Mirror: “Dì táng grows in the shade, where people don’t look.”

So the Yamabuki doesn’t need sunny places for blooming. They bloom in shady areas on mountains or river sides. They don’t need sun because they already shine like the sun thanks to their unique colour. The film evolves around Yamabuki both in the context of character and the flower itself. Yamabuki stands at crossroads, silently for protesting things that happen beyond the ocean. Like the flower yamabuki, she appeared in a shady place, but her thoughts brighten these unlit areas. As Yamabuki’s mother said; “Sunflowers face the sun but you don’t have to.” Yamabuki has the power, so she is being the sun to herself.

When Chang-Su met with Yamabuki, he said; “Hundreds of years ago bribes paid in gold coins were called yamabuki. Because of the colour. These days and in the old days too, yamabuki affects people.” Both in terms of gold coins and flowers, yamabuki changes the lives and thoughts of people. She wants to impress and pull people toward herself with her thoughts about issues of the world. Unlike her mother, she is doing this by standing silently and in this regard, she is kind of an introvert rebel. Yamabuki is a flower in the rifle barrel, which reminds us of the concept of Flower Power.

One of the interesting scenes in the film is a sentence that Chang-Su said to a horse; “Ask and it will be given to you.” This sentence is the seventh verse of the seventh chapter of the Gospel of Matthew in the New Testament and this chapter is about Sermon on the Mount, which is the moral teaching and saying of Jesus Christ in the Gospel of Matthew. “Ask, and it will be given to you. Seek, and you will find. Knock, and it will be opened for you. For everyone who asks receives. He who seeks finds. To him who knocks it will be opened.”

These verses include important metaphors about being a prayer and the act of pray. Asking, seeking and knocking are all metaphors for the act of prayer. The one who keep asking, seeking and knocking to find the things that they asks, and takes the answer from God. The person should perpetually do the act of praying. The key is continuity and faith. Chang-Su had lost everything when he said this verse to the horse. He said it for himself indeed, not for the horse. He wanted to knock on doors but he wasn’t well neither psychologically nor physically. He didn’t know how to do things in the context of perpetual. His leg was broken and we can think of this situation on the equestrian level: A horse with a broken leg is killed because the leg heals very difficultly and if one tries to treat the animal, in long period this case would be bad for their life.

Chang-Su wants only a home and family. He is not Japanese so he is a xenos in Japan. Xenos is a word from Ancient Greek language and it’s the equivalent of words like “strange/guest” or “enemy”. Well, according to the definition, is Chang-Su a guest or an enemy in Japan? Why can’t Chang-Su be a host in Japan? When Chang-Su speaks Korean, Minami angrily says to him; “Speak Japanese!” At this point, it would be appropriate to explain the concept of “welcoming” and “home”. According to the discussion about establishing a self, self is one’s home. This home is constituted with dispossession. The origin of the dispossession implies there is no home and no place where there is the self before the arrival of the other. 

The self is constituted by transforming the original dispossession into possession. One claims that a place belongs to oneself by offering to share it with another. In fact, there is no home, just some places that we pass through or come and go. By the equation between “home” and “state”, the two notions are equal to one another. Discourses of belonging about home are seen in states. So, if people live in a country that is related to themselves, racially or emotionally, they call that country a “home”. In this situation, immigrants are guests in regard of the host. Guests temporally stay anywhere. Guests are not included in the decisions that the host takes about the management of the home. The subject can accept the other into yourself in a place that belongs to oneself. According to Derrida, there is no idea of unconditional welcoming and eternal hospitality. When the host gives up the feeling of being master of the own house, the relationship between the host and the guest becomes hostile.

“Anyone who encroaches on my at home, on my ipseity, on my power of hospitality, on my sovereignty as host, I start to regard as an undesirable foreigner, and virtually as an enemy.” (Of Hospitality, p.53.) Chang-Su searches for a home and a family because he feels like a stranger in Japan, even though he lives with a family that he loves. He is a stranger too for this family because they leave him for a while for a “real” family. Also, he leaves his family that lives in Korea. So, there is no “home”, nor “family” in this world for anyone. Every place and every family is temporary, but change is permanent. Changes take us to other people. Even if we are taken to other places or other people, self stays with us. Yamabuki is a film about change and searching. The important one is not finding out what we look for, but the act of continuity. The flower yamabuki also changes, but it continues to bloom where special people look.

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