Keiko desu kedo / It’s Keiko (1997)

11 05 2015

Many artists have tried to capture the essence of time. Time, which is measured, but feels immeasurable in the way we experience. Time lingers and blasts through with such swiftness that we sometimes struggle to remember how it ever passed. In her latest book, Ongoingness: The End of a Diary, Sarah Manguso confesses that she kept a daily journal as a means to combat time’s progress. She writes, “The diary was my defense against waking up at the end of my life and realizing I’d miss it.” While Manguso’s strategy was to fight this daily, Keiko tries to do this by the minute.


Keiko spends most of her evenings in her apartment, counting off the sixty seconds in order to measure (and be conscious of) each minute. The death of her father is behind her, but she seems uncomfortable addressing her feelings. She instead focuses on her looming twenty-second birthday, which she sees as a crucial marker in her life’s timeline. In addition to counting each minute, she hosts a news program, composed mostly of her reciting the telephone numbers she called. Keiko, it seems, is struggling to make sense of time. A minute, an hour, a day – all seem like forces imposing on her, especially as she continues to reel from the loss of her father.


Keiko desu kedo is one of the earliest efforts from Shion Sono, who, in recent years, has transformed into one of Japan’s most beloved directors. The flash found in something like say, Love Exposure or Suicide Club is absent here. “Minimalism” has become overused in film circles, and I personally lament grouping all films composed of static shots and limited “action” together. Sono’s minimalism, if we prefer to call it that, does not function in the same way it would come to function throughout most of East Asia in the late 90s and early 00s. The films of Hou and Tsai are observant, while Sono’s (through Keiko Suzuki) is confessional.


While the film is presented as confessional, Keiko herself confesses very little. She gives us the facts that one might find useful, but she does not reveal the pain that she is likely hiding through her dedicated attempts to capture and cage time. The film’s grammar suggests, at every turn even, that she is revealing something personal even if she never offers up what this is through language. Sono fixates on Keiko’s face to the point of abstraction. It does not feel claustrophobic, mostly because the camera seldom grants us access to the space around her. Indeed, her apartment, with it blood red walls sharply contrasted with bright yellow lamps seems to become an abstraction on its own, ready to transform into a cartoon.


Many will find themselves frustrated by a film that is built around one character who is frequently shown counting to sixty. The final ten minutes could be maddening, but they are something of a revelation. Keiko finally steps outside of her apartment, the space opens, and the camera becomes more mobile. It tracks her as she skips in unison with her counting down the city streets. Her body’s performance seems to clash with the walking of passerby’s. Pardon the banality, but Keiko has to march to her own beat. That sounds corny, but consider this: Keiko has grieved, which is out of step with how our bodies are meant to perform and act out. Trauma, and our ongoing struggle to deal with it, goes against the state’s preference for our bodies. We need to do it, though. We need to be like Keiko, who continues skipping and counting far beyond the city’s streets, braving her way into a literal snow storm. Sometimes it isn’t even productive for dealing with loss, but we all deserve the opportunity to find that out for ourselves.




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