est em: Kine In!

est em’s Kine In! was a very satisfying read; from the beginning, it delivered a two-pronged attack on the way I usually experience a book. The four stories that make up this volume require audience participation because she leaves a lot of room for interpretation.

In the title story we are introduced to Joe and his childhood friends, twins, Mari and Ken. Mari likes Joe, Joe likes Ken, and Ken likes films. Ken just doesn’t get it, or maybe he does. Because est em has a habit of only giving you enough to get you acquainted, you’re left wondering and guessing and putting pieces together to really get what’s going on. It’s hard to strike a balance between telling a story and letting the story tell itself, but she manages to the point of embarrassment. I really wish I could write like that. The trio’s is a complicated relationship, though it all seems really easy on the surface. They regard each other as family and the option to disassociate themselves from either of the other two does not exist. Even as truths are revealed and frustrations are expressed, they maintain their connections with only a few noticeable changes. Even so far as embarking on a film-making adventure at a point where it is probably more than a little awkward for all of them, their habits don’t waiver much. But it makes you wonder, again, if Ken really gets it or not. Perhaps it is himself that he doesn’t get. While the tension is quietly mounting est em scrambles our brains and makes us rethink the entire story up to that point. I revel in such confusion because it is so perfectly hilarious. With some questions answered, we are silently, but clearly entrusted with the responsibility of filling in the blanks as our time with Mari, Joe and Ken comes to an end.

The remaining stories share with us other familiar juxtapositions. In “The Salvia and the Barber,” we see two life long friends actively address their relationship. Takashi means to redefine it, while Michio feels it’s enough to reconfirm it. I found it interesting that their conjectures began in similar ways. Here also we are left to guess; est em leaves it up to us to make out to what extent their affinity for each other reaches. While reading “The Scenery of that Summer” I wondered if, blossoming enchantment aside, Jirou Alkan was annoyed at the repeated mention of his father easily spilling from the lips of his new acquaintance and were the recollections uttered by someone would he have minded as much. If for nothing else, but to understand the criss-crossing of awe, acknowledgement, sadness and the few un-pinnable mental and emotional states that were set behind Jirou Alkan’s often wide-eyed stare, this was worth the read. Lastly, or thereabout, was “Mixed Juice.” I think the title is both a reference to Nao’s meal of choice and a challenge to the story’s obvious theme: boundaries. But I think that is were the intrigue stalled for me. The story seemed empty, superfluous. Even though I understood how the story reiterated the theme, Nao and Yuki’s interaction didn’t convince me that the theme had any real meaning. It wasn’t bad, but it left no real impression. Fortunately for me, the volume’s actual last story was a newly written addition to the title story. It ended so sweetly, on such a blushing note, that I was saved from the inevitability of “Mixed Juice” leaving me with mixed feelings about the book as a whole.

I usually judge manga by the front cover because it tells me a lot, sometimes more than the synopsis on the back. However, there are some I judge on the mangaka’s name only. If I see Miyamoto Kano on the cover, I can expect that at some point, for some reason, my heart will break. If I see Ueda Kiyo’s name, I know there is a sweet and charming love story waiting for me. But just like when I see Yamashita Tomoko’s name, est em’s always gives me pause and I have to remind myself to do away with all expectations, because you can never guess what they’re up to. So the story went for my quiet adventure with Kine In!

To be honest, I didn’t get a real good look at the cover until I finished the story; it was only on my third or fourth observation that it really registered, “hey, that’s popcorn!” It seems impossible, but this is how it has to be when encountering some storytellers. You just have to strip away all of the “everything else” and dive head first into the their work. And I still haven’t read the synopsis. At this point, I don’t think it matters; no matter what it reads, it won’t make me think any more or less of the story. But I’ll get around to it, eventually.

I was informed by the localization team for this title, Kitto Katsu, that the kine in Kine In! comes from the Japanese word for cinema, kinema. It was further explained to me that the title could be read as In the Cinema! or Cinema House! This, I learned before noticing what was on the cover; which is both hilarious and comforting to me. Every page, every panel of Kine In! felt like watching a Jim Jarmusch film, but at no time–until “Mixed Juice”–did it ever not feel wholly like the work of est em. To me, they are creators who have mastered crafting from someone else’s point of view. What I mean by that is they are creating someone else’s work; writing about things they’ve never experienced or even thought of themselves, but they managed to become so in sync with that someone else that rather than feeling contempt for the fraudulent pass, you are overwhelmed and dumbfound at the accuracy with which they are able to convey the thoughts, feeling, quirks, and compulsions of these lives that originally occurred to someone else. They create a 360° + the center P.O.V. that places the audience in everyone’s shoes, even theirs, but still it seems that they are a bit detached. And as deeply held as suspicions such as these are, even further down, down where it really matters, you feel that the whole production is so specific that there is little chance that it could have been envisioned by anyone else, but them–even the parts that do not seem wholly of them. The quiet edginess, the creeping intimacy, the flashing frames that are too good or too bad to be called a movie; the spectacle that is the Art House film. Was it est em’s intention to evoke this kind of response from her audience? Short of asking her myself, I’ll never know for sure, but what I do know is that the volume certainly succeeds in cornering you on a macro, micro, and meta level. The feeling, whatever she intended, whatever you perceive, is thoroughly inescapable.

As est em’s complete volumes go, I prefer Seduce Me After the Show and Ultras over this one, but because of the complex reaction I had to it, Kine In! has endeared itself to me on a level that goes beyond just being a good read. Even if you don’t have the extrinsic sentiments I have for this book, I believe, if you are a fan of artful storytelling, you will enjoy it.

Notes: This was done with a review copy that I did not get to keep a permanent copy of. I suppose, the next time I binge on est em, I’ll buy it.

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