When the term “magic of three” first became familiar to me, I was 8 and in an extracurricular school programme that taught creative writing. In a blue-and-yellow classroom, I sat with 10 others, attempting to refine the pain of repetition into sublime emphasis. Yet, at my present age, to mystify the number three in literary works (the tale of the Three Little Pigs), contemporary pop songs (N’Sync’s iconic crooning in ‘Bye Bye Bye’), and even in religious contexts (the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit) is to falsely amplify the power that a trinity structure holds.
I’d argue that the magic of three turns obsolete without the fairy dust of contrast. The multiplicity in character, in environment, and in era, grants an audience of any creative work holistic perspective. It is the minute differences in a three-time repetition that present the redemption of an otherwise futile means of description and plot advancement. This enchanting contrast in three was spellbinding, striking, and sacred at this year’s Japanese Film Festival (JFF) Singapore.
Held across a month, the Japanese Film Festival 2022 ushered in a fresh fervency through its fully on-site screenings, including the intimate documentary Kodokushi (2020) and the light-hearted romance The Moon Has Risen (1955).
The former revolves around three key stakeholders whose lives are deeply intertwined with the Japanese ‘Kodokushi’ phenomenon, referring to elderlies dying alone and undiscovered in their apartments. Through the lens of elderly who face the looming existentialism of their deaths and an estranged father that works as part of the ‘Kodokushi’ homes’ clean-up crew, the 1-and-a-half hour observational film is a perfect embodiment of the magical craft of three.
Plucking just three individuals from the alienatingly fast-paced urban landscape of Japan, the case studies are authentic yet characteristic emblems, filling the film with life and personality that is representative of the Japanese demographic. Kodokushi dramatises and spotlights the silver tsunami as a microcosm of the increasing ageing population.
Though the film’s events take place chronologically by forefronting the isolation that both young and old experience, the documentary handholds viewers to look both backwards into the lonely past and forwards at the bleak future through its characters. By summoning the craft of three, the Japanese movie bestows viewers with supernatural omnipresence that bournes them over time and space to convey heart-wrenching existentialism.
Tanaka Kinuyo’s The Moon Has Risen too conjures multiples of three within the interconnected love lives of three sisters, each one facing their own obstacles in romance. The film falls easily into multiple long-established tropes as well, like secret matchmaking, friends-to-lovers, and miscommunication. In addition, The Moon Has Risen dives into its own sea of multiplicity by allowing itself to be contrasted against an endless line of romantic comedies. Yet, the film breaks through the surface of drownable depth with its breath of feminine air.
The female gaze is triply a challenge to define but despite it being tough to put into words, Kinuyo’s directorial vision casts a pervasive shadow of awe-inspiring femininity. A sum of its three parts, the movie captures tenderness and giddy affection through the sisters’ eyes, loose from any negative or positive connotation. It would be wrong to purely caricature the all-encompassing term of a female gaze under non-judgmental emotional vulnerability but Kinuyo’s aptitude in portraying this visually deserves unwithheld credit. Every breath held in romantic anticipation, every muffled weep for a lover, and every giggle in a sister’s solitude feels as important as it is, in Kinuyo’s sophomore film. The wand of femininity she wields is showcased and unveiled in its ever-present manifestations across the film’s magical three parts, a feat augmented by the near-absence of female directors in 1950’s Japan.
In conversation of magic and all its counterparts, although this year’s installment of the Japanese Film Festival pays undisputable tribute to the allure of artistic trinities, the truest magic lies within the flair for bringing life and fiction onto the silver screen. With these two films as integral representatives of Japan’s film industry, they collaborate to cast unprecedented bewitchment on the final year of JFF’s own magical third decade, leaving film-buffs in suspense for what their 40th anniversary might bring next year.