More than being a film about being gay fatherhood, His (2020) poses a question about the idea of queer domicile, or specifically, the instability of constituting a gendered home in modern Japan.
A film by Rikiya Imaizumi, His tells a story about two ex-lovers Shun Igawa (Hio Miyazawa) and Nagisa Hibino (Kisetsu Fujiwara) getting back together after a long time of separation while facing moral scrutiny from Japanese society due to their sexual orientation. They were college lovers, but during their graduation, Nagisa decided to break up with Shun. Shun secluded himself in the countryside to escape from the discrimination he experienced in his city workplace. One day, his ex-lover Nagisa appeared with his six-year-old daughter Sora Hibino (Sakura Sotomura). Nagisa was in the process of divorcing his wife Rena Hibino (Wakana Matsumoto), who recently found out that he was gay. This led to the main conflict of the film: the legal battle between Nagisa and Rena over the custody of Sora.
The film’s subtext is something that Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick would work on. On the outset, it is still about the epistemological horrors of the closeted self-consciousness and the desire for societal acceptance of gay fatherhood.
It can also be a story of the revenant who returns to the domicile of his originary desire: the gay Odysseus who returns home to his Penelope.
Although not explicitly expressed, the film is more about the idea of queer domicile than plainly about gay fatherhood. Queer domicile is the place in which the collapse of the traditional family structure takes residence. In the film, there is a constant struggle in making explicit through questioning the notion of an ideal contemporary Japanese home on the verge of transformation. While it focuses on the banalities of countryside life, the film also tries to articulate a negation of domesticity through the queering process imperceptibly coded in the mannerisms of the everyday.
In one scene, family court counselors ask Nagisa if two single men living together can give a child a safe and happy life after the divorce. Nagisa affirmed in confidence that he and Shun can give Sora a loving home, which the film almost teases to complete actualization. The family court counselors, however, disagreed and insisted that it should be a mother and a father that should take custody of the child.
In this instance, the idea of queer domicile in not yet fully incipient, but it is provoked by putting up gay fatherhood against the state apparatus itself, suspending the inquiry of what should constitute an idea of home in modern Japan. The film queerly flaunts the idea, although implicitly, of two men with unestablished gender relations living together under one roof to take care of a child, whose innocence and predetermined subjectivity provide an open possibility for a queer life.
Indeed, the presence of the child figure in the film, both embodied in the character of Sora and in the rapturous energy of the new beginning, creates a point of opening (a queering point) in which the idea of queer domicile builds in on itself. The Child here, being the figure of the pure and unadulterated determination, provokes the state apparatus to reconsider notions of domicility, of the performativity of gender in the dwelling place.
The figura of the Adult fully interpellated by the State Apparatus provides the juridical grounding of the film. The Adult figura satiates the rationalization of gender performance, subsuming the figura of the Child within its metapolitics. However, at the end of film, the figura of the Child functions as a radical way out from the process of rationalization by suggesting a new beginning.
One recalls very well of the Child-like figure in Nietzsche’s Three Metamorphoses in Thus Spoke Zarathustra as the “innocence and forgetting, a new beginning, a sport, a self-propelling wheel, a Sacred Yes.” Similarly, in the film, the Child is the minoritarian force that provokes the slippage into queerness. Only the Child can possess the queer energy that can disrupt the State Apparatus’ interpellative and hegemonic power to its end. Indeed, it is apparent in the film how the Child is depicted not as a dialectical point of contestation, but outside of the dialectics of gender itself, an overcoming of the dialectics, hatching an Overman of disaggregated intensities, that no longer speaks a language of predetermined incipience of gender performance.
The Child dwells in a home in which it forces the binary of gender to be subsumed and metamorphosed under its wing, all this depicted in the praxiological synthesis of the film’s narrative.
The title of the film His is a misnomer. The filmmakers, unaware of the radical intensity of the Child as the figure of queer domicile, constructs a homonormative fantasy of custodial ownership under the dubious validity of the pronoun his, which can also be seen as the erasure of mothering, as represented by the figura of Rena. ‘His’ is a claim of private ownership of two men, a territorial determination. One can only be ‘his’ and ‘his’ alone, and there can no bifurcation of this provenance of ownership beyond the ‘his’.
The position of the Child, as an opening, presents a conflict with the title of the film. Who owns the Child? Is the Child his? The fragmentation of his as a gendered pronoun of performative custodianism demonstrates that under queer domicile relations, no gender determination escapes the incipience of the Child.
In the end, the film has successfully shown the Child as the radical potential for a genderless future, for a non-binary family that escapes the Oedipal triad. It is quite surprising, at least to me, that such a subtle and quite film can articulate such an idea of queer domicile.
Is Japan opening up to the liberalization of the culture while keeping itself firmly rooted in domestic concerns of tradition? The answer lies in further investigating the idea of queer domiciles, considering the libidinal economy of queer desire vis-à-vis the contemporary political economy of modern Japan.
Adrian D. Mendizabal is a MA Media Studies (Film) candidate of the University of the Philippines Film Institute (UPFI). He has contributed several essays on Philippine cinema to NANG 2, La Furia Umana, New Durian Cinema, Transit Journal, Sinekultura Film Journal and MUBI Notebook. He is currently working on a research project exploring the relationship of time and Lav Diaz’s cinema. He is also the Philippine delegate for Cinema and Moving Image Research Assembly (CAMIRA). His main interest is film-philosophy.