I recently rewatched Takashi Miike’s Big Bang Love, Juvenile A (2006). A film that I did like on my first viewing but at the same time felt more as an observer of than drawn into. Also, I wasn’t able to make much sense of just about everything in the film except the pretty straight forward murder mystery at the center of the plot, so when I sat down with it the second time, I figured that I’d try to find some possible meaning in the film. Something that would mean something to me, personally, at least.
The film starts with Kenichi Endo, who plays one of the detectives in the film, supposedly reading from the script and describing the place where the prison that everything takes place in is located. A place so far away in space that when the light from earth hits it, you’re able to see into the past. A hundred, a thousand or ten thousand years into the past, depending on which way you look. Turn this light on Tokyo in 2005 and an alternate reality is created, a place outside of time, this is where the prison exists.
A boy is asked what kind of man he wants to be, and the answer is expressed in an animalistic dance. The boy grows up to be Shiro (Masanobu Ando), strong and violent. He arrives in the prison at the same time as Jun (Ryuhei Matsuda), Shiro’s opposite, but they are both convicted of murder. Shiro for beating a man to death out of anger and Jun for killing a man who possibly raped him, but it’s uncertain if it really was in self defense, since he stayed in the hotel room where the murder took place to keep beating the corpse several times and it’s implied that he followed the man there by his own will.
While Jun and Shiro seem to be exact opposites, there are some things that point to them being the same. The question of what kind of man to be is perhaps one clue, making Shiro and Jun two sides of the same man, or same human. While Shiro is violent, Jun is calm, when Jun is bullied in the cafeteria Shiro comes to his rescue, but as soon as Shiro gets the attention of the others it’s like Jun isn’t even there anymore, totally ignored by eveyone and after the fight it’s Jun who is in solitary confinement bleeding, with the dancer from the beginning is staring back at him. When Shiro gets farming detail, Jun gets to do laundry, combined with each of their behaviour it’s easy to do draw the stereotypical parallell of male/female, not only as opposites but as parts of the same being. It is a stretch though that they would be the same physical being since they are both acknowledged as individuals by the other prisoners, but in Big Bang Love, Juvenile A, physical accuracy seems to take a backseat to representations.
Perhaps the prison could be seen as a kind of childhood, where Jun and Shiro’s entry dressed in bloodied whites can be seen as a kind of rebirth from the regular world, and a new kind of innocence, even though the warden says that their crimes will never be forgotten. Jun felt like he was locked up in the modern world too, where he was abused by adults, and now he’s locked up in another kind of society, governed by adults. The prison is where they decide what kind of humans they want to be. When the two police officers are discussing Shiro’s background, they say that he’s been through horrible things as a child, but they never go into detail. One can only guess that he was also abused. When Jun walks into their cell, he literally sees a child looking out the barred up window, when it’s actually Shiro standing there, and outside the prison there’s a rocketship and a pyramid, maybe representing science and religion but also something that could be from a child’s fantasy.
Even though both Shiro and Jun bring their respective personalitites into prison, prison also turns out to be a place where roles are shed and their true selfs come out. Several times it’s shown that the violence and aggressiveness of Shiro is just a front and inside he’s still a child and at one point it’s said that no news from the outside world gets into the prison making it even more reminiscent of childhood.
If the prison is indeed childhood and the prisoners are children the guards and especially the warden must be seen as the adults. One thing that confirms this is that the warden (Ryo Ishibashi), even though Shiro raped his wife which caused her to commit suicide, puts his feelings of wanting to kill Shiro aside because even if he is husband to his wife, he’s also a civil servant.
There is also the question of guilt, fate versus choice. Violence goes in cycles, it's unavoidable if you're stuck in it. The warden says that he’s essentially powerless, he can’t help anyone. Those who reform do so out of the goodness of their own heart. It is also said that even if there are people who come out right from something like what Shiro has gone through, you can’t really blame those who don’t. When Jun brings out the guilt in Shiro for the crimes he commited, Shiro can’t handle it, his guilt turns him into a child but all the abuse has made him unable to handle his feelings. The original title, 4,6 billion years of love, suggests fate has brought Shiro and Jun together, that their love has existed since the beginning of time and that everything that has happened since then has lead up to their meeting in prison, like a butterfly effect. There even is a butterfly showing up in some scenes.
Masanobu Ando as Shiro Kazuki.
When Shiro’s dead body is found with Jun on top of it with his hands around Shiro’s throat, Jun claims that he’s the one who did it, possibly because his love brought out the child in Shiro which Shiro couldn’t handle so he commited a kind of suicide.
If all this sounds like confused ramblings it’s because the film does confuse me. Miike strips the scenery down to just lines on the floor in some scenes, like if to make you focus on the meaning instead of emotions. At other times he uses scenery that is more like something out of a Seijun Suzuki film, screaming for attention. The biggest problem for me, is to find a way to tie all of this together, and watching the interview with Miike on the Animeigo dvd might explain why. According to Miike the film was made with the intention of making a non-theme film, using the sets as a way to make the audience think critically about what they are watching, without there being any real meaning behind it. I have to say, as an experiment it worked, but I can’t help feel a little cheated. Miike also says though that the best way of watching the film might be while drifting in and out of sleep, experiencing it like a dream.
There are many more things in the film that could be interpreted, one is the conversation about heaven and space between Jun and Shiro out by the pyramid and rocketship. Climbing the pyramid takes you to heaven, going on the rocketship takes you to space, nothingness, there are less people there. Which one is to prefer? Maybe Shiro, in the end, just made his choice.
I think I was closer to the point the first time I watched it than I am now.