Some contend that life must be lived with a mediation of masks. Others espouse the contrary: a life conducted with as much consistency and honesty as possible, without dissimulations and the need for social personas. Jun Ichikawa’s How to Become Myself undermines the reductive simplicity of either perspective, and forwards a strategic compromise between the two. There is verity in the oft-repeated line from Whitman: “I am large, I contain multitudes.”
Based on a novel by Mado Kaori, this is the story of two kindred spirits floundering through young adolescence as they parse what it means to live happily and approach life at the right pitch and proportion. A profound yet delicate drama, it is a film that continues in the same vein and tonality as the director’s previous offering, Tony Takitani,
As the film opens, two adolescent girls named Juri and Kanako meet very briefly just before high school graduation. It’s a meeting that leaves a lasting impression on both girls, with Kanako leaving behind a line from Dazai Osamu: “You’re a good liar; you should do the right thing.” Cryptic, but the line somehow clicks with the listener. The two lose touch and resettle in different towns, with Juri finding a sense of equilibrium in her new life. It’s no mean feat, as she must buck the divorce of her parents, and adapt to a new school and environment.
Thanks to the talismanic line from Dazai, the once-troubled Juri reinvents herself and turns her life around. She becomes well-adjusted enough to become everybody's favorite at school. This is the part where word about Kanako reaches her. Relocated to another school, she faces the same prospects as Juri once did. Juri decides to intervene and makes contact with Kanako via email. While Juri turns their correspondence into a novel, Kanako takes advice about everything: from classmates to school etiquette, down to what to say to a suitor, what to order on a date. Through her friend's steady instruction, Kanako refashions herself to great effect.
It’s a hackneyed conceit straight out of Edmond Rostand. But
But the concerns of
The presence of novelist Dazai Osamu is often invoked and lingers in the background. His hovering spirit in
At once poetic and pragmatic, How to Become Myself is like a book wanting to be read and learned from. A self-help tome, a survival manual, a teenager's guide to the universe, or whatnot, but its heart will be forever in the right place.