Tag Archives: Vibrator

Vibrator: Isolated in a Sea of Food

In the opening scene of Vibrator, food is featured in the primary form of pop cultural commodity. In the sequence, food represents pop cultural cliche, or corresponds directly to the protagonist’s social anxiety in relation to such cliches. Such immediate attention to food, and its associated consumer culture helps to quickly frame the protagonist as an outsider. It is this isolation, resulting from her inability to assimilate to the pop culture of her society, that enables her sharp criticisms. This isolation is nuanced by the almost threatening, and overwhelming presence of the collective food around her. This moment provides ample characterization; though it only encompasses the first couple minutes of the film, it helps the viewer to understand the protagonist, especially when she jumps into more spontaneous moments in the film.

The first few shots are quick, almost overwhelming skims across the supermarket, revealing shoppers and their prospective purchases. First a sea of magazines, panning over to curious customers, and refrigerated beverages in the background. A customer leaving, as another enters. A man on his cell phone walking past a section so quickly the camera cannot even identify its contents. And then a sign “WHITE DAY” and panning from one set of sweets to another, specifically shortbread cookies.

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The camera work, just like the narrator, exudes social anxiety. The quick movements and handicam could either be intended to establish the tone of the film or to express the literal visual perspective of the female protagonist. It isn’t clear, but it doesn’t seem to matter. Perhaps what’s essential is the distant relationship enabled by the camera between the subject and the food. All these items are merely evidence of a commercial culture she doesn’t identify with, and that feels alien, and intrusive to her. Furthermore, there are no closeups of any of the food. Each item is not presented as an individual, really, but only in relationship to other food or people. They’re only presented in groupings, in walls  of food items, in crammed shelves. This builds the feel of the protagonist being so overwhelmed, in this scene. Given the implications of the camerawork, how can she not be? There is a constant sense of motion around her, nearly disorienting; yet she cannot escape the presence of the food. The groupings also emphasize the social importance of food; it only has power, in this scene, due to the collective nature.

The scene continues to explore food as a primarily social aspect. The narrator contemplates the vapidity of consumer oriented holidays, like valentines day, prefacing with “Will your valentine buy you chocolates?” Here, the camera is zoomed very closely on her eye, reflecting the introverted nature of her contemplations. She isn’t connected to her surroundings when she says these things. She isn’t part of the valentines day phenomenon. She is clearly differentiating herself, speaking as an outsider. This “outsider” feeling continues into the next couple statements, with “Don’t buy into the chocolate makers’ marketing ploy, you morons.”. As she says this, other shoppers are briefly shown, interacting normally, with the camera framed conventionally around them. When the camera returns to her, she seems distant, with her back turned, almost silhouetted against the artificially lit rows of food. And indeed, the protagonist is distant; she, at this moment, will never understand the happiness most people find in the artifice enforced by popular food culture.

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Life begins at the Konbini

The film adaptation of Akasaka Mari’s novel Vibrator begins and ends under the harsh glare of late-night florescent lights at a convenience store.  I feel the convenience store (Konbini in Japanese) is an important marker of life in post-bubble Japan.  The stores are liminal spaces that act as a nexus for the instability of work and social life in Heisei Japan; the persons working at the store and the people producing most of the products available for sale work in a service industry that (for the most part) provides none of the traditional safety of lifetime employment in Japan.  The prepackaged food that the customers shop for also implies instability, either in the sense that the consumers are too busy to prepare and eat meals, or that they have no real place to eat; the latter is seen in the meal that Rei and Okabe share in the cab of his truck. The wrappers scattered around the space set the stage for Rei and Okabe unwrapping – or declothing – each other.  Not to belabor the metaphor of a disposable society, but the rate at which Okabe seems to shed jobs (or they shed him) and the drifting of Rei into the truck and out of her normal existence (of which the only evidence we see – other than in flashbacks – is the convenience store) seems of a theme with the ephemerality of the fashion magazines and cheap foods stocking the opening shots (one could also make the argument the processed foods and the wrappers that contain them are in no way ephemeral but contribute to a dystopian society of permanent trash, both in our digestive systems and on our streets, but I feel the movie is not engaging this aesthetic but rather one of easy disposability).

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It is notable that one of the final scenes in Vibrator takes place in a Shokudō (often translated as cafeteria, but here more of a small restaurant catering to travelers and truckers).  A restaurant on a highway would also definitely be marked as a liminal space, as it exists for travelers to come and go.  However I think this space, although liminal, symbolizes a type of stability that stands in opposition to the life marked by the convenience store.  The society that passes through the Shokudō is one in transit – on a continuum to and from certain fixed points, while the one passing through the convenience store is unrooted – in a state of constant flux. Rei and Okabe come to a measure of truth over their meal in the Shokudō, while the finale returns them to the front of the convenience store.  The shot composition is interesting here as Rei is stationary but there is movement all around her as the lights of the city flicker and car/truck headlights move in different directions. The final shot of Rei back in the convenience store holds static as she waits for her wine to be rung up, aligning her with the products in the store until the screen fades to black.

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Back in front of the Konbini as the city moves past

Vibrator: Food as a Temporary Pleasure

HIROKI Ryuichi’s 2003 film, Vibrator, is a drama of an emotionally and psychologically unstable 31 year old freelance journalist, Rei Hayakawa, who is consumed by various voices in her head that have disabled her from creating meaningful relationships with anything around her, people and food alike. Throughout the film, there are very few images that include or mention food, but the scenes that do, portray food symbolically. Food that Rei ingests is characterized as unhealthy, unnecessary and not conducive to a presumably acceptable lifestyle. The convenient foods were eaten to merely fill the void in her stomach. This symbolism can translate to her general life which can be satisfied only temporarily by relationships with others. The person she attempts to make a connection with in the movie, Okabe, is in fact a stranger. This relationship shows a parallel to the unhealthy, temporary foods she consumes which includes corn chips, alcohol and Okabe himself. Throughout the film, the consumption of food is a temporary pleasure – a temporary escape – to Rei’s dissatisfaction with her life. This implies that although food, as well as the real voices that surround her, were necessary for nourishing a healthy life, Rei refused to maintain either, which understandably took a toll on her mental and physical self. Further, food in Vibrator plays a symbolic role to illustrate Rei’s happiness and pleasure as merely temporary, similar to the temporal time food remained in her body.

The opening scene in the convenience store sets the reoccurring motif that

Okabe as Food

everything in Rei’s life is merely for short lived ecstasy and fulfillment, as seen by her desire to “eat” Takatoshi. She characterizes the man as something she wants to consume even though her life at that time consisted of consistent regurgitation. Rei’s one night stand mentality symbolizes her desire to create an intimate relationship, during her time of self-dissatisfaction and critique, in order to relieve the doubts of her meaningful existence. This is exemplified when she urges him to compliment her by name when having intercourse in the cabin of his truck. The simple fact that Takatoshi was simply a “cute” stranger further illustrates her childlike thought processes of yearning for immediate satisfaction, similar to an adolescent’s longing for candy.

Additionally, the scene preceding their first intimate intercourse, when Rei vomits the corn chips and alcohol, supports the idea that food is simply for the sake of immediate pleasure rather than the purpose of nourishment. When she initially comes into the truck, she knew that she needed to be intoxicated in order for her to act impulsively rather than be stopped by her fears and

Vomit of Corn Chips and Alcohol

inhibitions. Although the audience sees Rei’s enjoyment of being intoxicated and eating the corn chips, things already characterized as temporary, is unquestionably removed from her system by vomiting everything out. This temporary ecstasy supports the idea that everything consumed would ultimately not be digested but rather eliminated before any nourishment or fulfillment could any impact on the body.

Emotional Food Connections: Vibrator

The Film Vibrator, directed by Ruichi Hiroki, and based on the novel by Mari Akasaka, is a very thoughtful and emotional film. Taking place in Japan, the story is of a woman named Rei Hayakawa, who suffers from both Bulimia and a drinking problem. She is a woman who struggles to find an emotional balance. She fights and argues with herself, hearing voices in her head and feels uncomfortable in her own skin. To deal with this, she drinks to fill the void she feels, and vomits to keep the voices at ease and allow her to sleep. However, things take a turn when she meets a truck driver names Okabe while at a convenience store, shopping for alcohol. Leaving all her items for purchase behind, she follows him and embarks on a life changing journey with him.

Throughout the entire film it can be noted that food plays an important role. Although large amounts of food are not embedded within the film, it is it’s very absence that must be taken into account. Rei’s failure to eat food helps to signify how self conscience she really is. She does not eat because she does not feel good when she does. When she does eat, however, it is almost always regurgitated. Her rejection of food can also represent her emotional instability and vacancy.

Prior to meeting Okabe, Rei does not keep any long term attachments to anyone or anything, except to alcohol which happens to be what is slowly destroying her and keeps her numb to emotion. This relation between Rei’s emotions and food can be revealed in one of the pivotal scenes of the movie when Rei and Okabe are in the truck and she begins to feel ill. During this scene Rei is talking to other truckers on the CB, but suddenly she does not know whether she is really talking to them or if she is hearing the voices in her head. She begins to panic and then feels the urge to vomit. However, when she tries to vomit, she can’t. Earlier in the film she had eaten with Okabe, but she did not vomit like she usually does, and this could possibly be because she has built a strong attachment to Okabe. Being with him made her content so much that she did not feel the need to vomit. When she begins to feel ill, it is almost as if she can not handle the emotions that she feels. Her forcing herself to vomit is her way of avoiding handling her emotions. By the end of the scene though, she is able to hurl, but she is not able to unchain herself from her emotions. They are here to stay.

Later in the film, there is yet another pivotal moment, and it again highlights the relationship between Rei and her emotions. The scene takes place right after Rei’s emotional breakdown. They sit down to have a bowl of ramen, and here is where emotional confessions   take place. While eating, Rei is able to tell Okabe that she has feelings for him.

Reciprocating the feeling, Okabe invites her to stay with him. However, Rei decides to return home. Only when eating is Rei able to speak so freely. Her acceptance of food is an analogy with her beginning to understand and welcome the fulfillment of her once vacant sentiments.

Rei’s decision to go back to her old life tells us that after the unexpected journey with Okabe, she is now comfortable with the person that she is. So, she returns back to the convenience store, where she again purchases her alcohol, but this time she does so with confidence. She realizes that the person she is, is someone to be appreciated, and although it is  not as glamorous as others, her life is still worth living.

Through food and its absence as well, Ruichi Hiroki is able to thoroughly expose Rei and her inner sensitivities, allowing her to accept herself and be happy with the life that she has been given.

The Bridge Built by Food and Alcohol

In Vibrator, although food is not the main subject of the storytelling, it serves as an indispensable mediation for the protagonist Rei,  and it builds up a bridge along with alcohol to help her cross the disguised internal self to the outside world.

Director Ryuichi Hiroki leads us into Rei’s stream of conscious immediately after we enter the convenience store along with her first person narrative. Yet, we do not know what is the reason behind, her indulgence in alcohol is already clear here—in search of German white wine, she is unconsciously compassed by all kinds of alcohol. Particularly, in this frame, she even peers through the close set of wine bottles, as if those bottles build up a fence that protects her from the real world.

a fence built by wine bottles

Till then, the pace of the movie keeps following Rei’s line of sight. Every second that is stressful for her seems to be prolonged, just as the effect of alcohol gives her time to take a deep breath, “talk“ to the voice in her mind, and reflect on her own before reacting to the real world situation.

However, the intrusion of Okabe suddenly interrupts the pace. The moment he attracts Rei’s attention, her thoughts lose control of her body. She seems to be “paused“ while Okabe is coming closer, and the coincidental phone vibration adds up her uncertainty of next move. “He is good enough to eat,“ Rei’s conscious comes back to her with a strong sense of “hunger“—a major expression of desire for her. Driven by this desire and seduced by Okabe’s touch, she drops her wine and gin and follows him into his truck, a comfortable and warm space separating them from the snowing outside. Two complete strangers start to share the same harbor.

Rei sips shoochuu to prepare herself for the interaction with Okabe

As Rei enters the truck, Okabe offers her shoochuu, which is different from wine in both taste and way of consumption. Wine usually takes effect slowly and gradually, while shoochuu strikes your taste buds and nose once it hits your tongue. Also, the latter is more popular among folks than wine or gin. Therefore, in the following scene, Rei’s instant acceptance of shoochuu may indicate her willingness to unlock the door in her heart for a stranger with unfamiliar background. Moreover, her utilizing of alcohol as a mediation of preparing for interaction with people is revealed here as well. “Of course I need a drink. I can’t do it in sober,“ her mind further gives her convincing reason to take the drink. But the drink turns out to be not strong enough to ease her stress. She still cannot control her behavior, so she feeds herself with the corns at hand. Similarly, the corn here does not play its traditional role as a random snack; for Rei, it is more like a painkiller, and it is something harmless since she can puke it all up later, something in this situation can feed her hungry desire and keep her calm.

As their road trip begins, Rei finds comfort in a new way of consumption after their first sexual encounter. Unlike food or alcohol, Okabe is certainly something she wants to “eat up“ rather than vomit. Later on the journey, Rei confesses to Okabe about her bulimia and alcoholism. In response, Okabe also admits that his lies about his wife, kids, and the stalker. Their physical relationship becomes less important than their increasing mutual understanding. Okabe’s role is no longer Rei’s “food“ that relieves her from pain; he takes initiative to take care of her.

Okabe encourages Rei to drive the truck

He supports Rei when she loses control of herself. He strokes her back in the bath when she cries. In particular, he teaches Rei how to drive the truck step by step and makes her feel a sense of taking control. As long as Okabe holds her back, Rei feels safe and the disturbing voice hardly occurs.

In the end, Okabe takes Rei back to the same convenience store where they meet. Just like Rei’s typical bulimic symptom, Okabe and his truck “eat“ her in the beginning of the movie and now “puke” her up. Maybe that explains Rei’s saying “he ended up consuming me,“ but what matters to her is that she feels relief now, without the help of food or alcohol. She whistles to the leaving truck, a signal which means “I’m fine“ when Okabe communicates with his friends in walkie-talkie.

Rei goes back to the convenient store and gets the same wine and gin

Then, she turns around and goes straight back into the store, still for wine and gin though. In contrast to the scene where she is surrounded by wine bottles and wondering in circles, this time, she makes choices and decisions without hesitation. Even though the voice in her mind does not vanish, it sounds full of certainty and confidence now, because she knows there is someone who has “consumed“ her, who has cherished her, who has completely embraced her as who she is, with no disguise. Next time she sips a wine, it is not an expose of vulnerability; instead, it is a proud proof of bravely confronting the voice, confronting her internal self.

Worksheet for class: Tues Feb 14

Rei's phone vibrates as she crosses paths with Okabe

This is the same thing I will hand out in class today–but it has color images.

vibrator_worksheet