Featured Film Reviews
Piecing Me Back Together – Review
by Miguel Douglas on August 27, 2011
A young woman named Izumi suffers the loss of her boyfriend Junichi, who died from a fatal motorcycle accident. Day by day, Izumi is immersed in pain and sadness. The shock from her boyfriend’s sudden death causes Izumi to lose her memory from the time of the accident. To reclaim her memories, Izumi goes to a mental facility for therapy. There, Izumi meets the lawyer Makiko to help her make an inquiry into the accident. They work together to remember the final moments of her boyfriend’s life.
Based on the novel by author Ren Kawahara, Piecing Me Back Together presents another foray into the facets of love and death concerning Japanese youth, a theme that has to some extent remained prevalent in Japanese cinema within the last decade. While focusing specifically on the element of passing love, the film surprisingly decides to also explore the emotional ramifications that stem from losing a loved one through rather tragic circumstances, an action that indicates the film more so as a character study than simply a tale relying on superficial melodrama to win over the sympathy of the audience. Taken as a literal ode to its title, Piecing Me Back Together provides a narrative of one young woman’s journey to redeem the qualities of her memories pertaining to her recently deceased boyfriend, a premise that may sound rather generic at first but is creatively handled by director Isomura’s ability to engage both the emotional and psychological dynamics of the film’s characters. Most other films that deal with this type of material usually devote most of their time towards the aspect of showcasing the flourishing relationship under the idea that one of the individuals would eventually perish to some terminal illness or unfortunate accident, thus showing the hardships of having to let someone go. Piecing Me Back Together follows a similar route, but by having the narrative initially begin after the untimely death of Izumi’s boyfriend, the film is able to examine the after effects of her psychological anguish.
Viewed as a film that can be best described as stemming from the onamida chōdai genre—a genre that relies heavily on the aspect of sentimentality—Piecing Me Back Together has much to offer in terms of attempting to realistically address the genre. In this regard, the film is not plainly looking to capitalize on overwrought sentimentalities to appease the viewership; rather it looks at the psychological state of its characters as practical responses towards such traumatic experiences. Whether this is viewed in the form of the false physical handicaps expressed by Izumi through the memories of her devastating motorcycle accident, to the distress expressed by Makiko for not having visited her younger sister in years due to an accident she blames herself for causing, the film doesn’t reduce the powerful impact that such tragic experiences can have on individuals. While the accidents that these characters are faced with are in fact physical, the film chooses to explore the psychological denial that often arises when one can’t really truly comprehend nor understand why such horrible instances have occurred. The film works on many levels with this in mind, with the most prominent being the figurative piecing back together of memories that were displaced when going through such a tragedy, and as the film showcases, it is a decision that is frequently difficult for many to engage in.
This garners the film a structure that plays upon the notion of the fragmentation of memory through an often times segmented narrative. This is not to be perceived as a negative aspect of the film; it in fact works alongside the idea of Izumi’s search for her own memories quite effectively. Perhaps stemming from post-traumatic stress disorder, the film looks into how such emotional issues can inadvertently have an effect on one’s own perceived memories. We as the audience are slowly introduced to the true nature of Izumi’s consciousness as she attempts to figure out why she has denied herself the ability to remember her past. This slow uncovering on her part is translated exceptionally well over to the audience through the narrative structuring of the film—from dream-like states to that of recollected thoughts, the film elaborates upon the wounded state of Izumi’s mind. With the focus mainly upon the plight of Izumi, the film broadens to include that of addressing the issue of other characters not facing up to their own past well. While this is a message of the film that is prominent throughout, many of the other characters outside Izumi that share her same dilemma don’t really elicit as much determinism to rid themselves of such practices of denial—even though the film alludes to them wanting to overcome such obstacles. It’s this aspect of the film that could’ve used a little more emphasis, mainly because it would have provided some connection between Izumi’s emotional situation and her ability to recover. While we do somewhat see such a correspondence begin to develop between Izumi and lawyer Makiko, it doesn’t seem as important as one would hope given the foundation of their relationship being that of supposedly helping one another confront their past. We are left with Izumi seemingly having all these different individuals around her but they don’t necessarily help her along the path of recovery in way that would appear thoughtful.
With the likes of actress Keiko Kitagawa portraying such a damaged character, it’s fantastic to see that she truly hits the mark here. Her range as an actress has certainly developed over her relatively short time within film and she showcases exceptional diversity in her character. One could easily see Keiko handling more serious roles if given the chance, with this film being an indication of her potential. And with the film not simply focusing solely on the relationship shared between her character of Izumi and boyfriend Junichi, the film also explores how such a loss can negatively affect an individual’s ability to live a more fulfilling life. While certainly well warranted within a genre that relies mostly on being overly sentimental and often times impractical in its showcasing of relationships, Piecing Me Back Together is a film that doesn’t necessarily fall into such tropes—for the most part. The film still remains attached to the elements of melodrama as is accustomed to the genre, but one has to recognize its effort to at least strive towards addressing real dilemmas that are faced by individuals on a daily basis. While most films of this particular genre exaggerate such relationships to an almost absurd degree at times—where some rare terminal illness is usually the cause of death of someone in the relationship—the film focuses on an individual rather than the couple. In many ways, the sentimental values of the film are underscored further because of this emphasis on authentic problems concerning one individual, but like many other films within the onamida chōdai genre, Piecing Me Back Together does successfully bring about some refreshing changes, but it ultimately remains trapped within its own clichéd bearings to truly establish itself as a film that stands above the rest in the genre.