Review: ‘A Room of Her Own’

Hot Docs 2017

3 mins read

A Room of Her Own: Rai Naito and Light
(Japan, 87 minutes)
Dir. Yuko Nakamura
Programme: Made in Japan (North American Premiere)


An art film, an anxiety therapy diary and a benign stalk-umentary about a reclusive artist and her adoring fan, Yuko Nakamura’s film about artist Rai Naito is an oddity. Delicately shot and edited, unpredictable and occasionally squirm-inducingly precious, it should win some fervent converts and leave others sitting quizzically on the fence.

The nominal subject, Rai Naito, is a Nagasaki-born internationally recognised installation artist, painter, sculpture, poet, now in her mid-fifties. Her works are minimalist but loaded with an unmistakable aura of vulnerability: tiny human figures, white canvases. shell-like protective spaces. One of her best-known installations at the island-based Teshima Art Museum is a cave-like structure with an elliptical open roof that allows in water droplets, which bead and slither about the walls and floor.

It was here, director Nakamura explains in her whispering English voice-over, she found the ability to “breathe deeply,” after struggling to cope with her mother’s paralysis and terminal illness. She contacted Naito, who said that was exactly her motive in creating the works. That began a two-year, if rather one-sided collaboration.

Naito, while supportive of the director’s film and offering occasional nuggets of insight about her work and desire to escape the ego, refuses to be filmed. She eventually allows Nakamura to film her studio, where there is a prominent photograph of one of Naito’s major influences, Simone Weill, the ascetic religious thinker who died at 34.

Nakamura, largely thwarted but undaunted, makes a curious decision: If she can’t film Naito, she’ll film someone else. She picks willowy model-actress Toniguchi Ran, who is shown staring intently at Naito’s art works, bathing, talking about her suicidal thoughts, and bicycling in the countryside. But one woman doesn’t prove enough, so Nakamura suddenly shifts her subject again, to several women, of different generations—friends and strangers who have experienced trauma or despair—who she gathers together in the embrace of Naito’s Matrix cave, to share and heal.

On one level, this feels banal, turning Naito’s soft-shock spiritual art into a venue for group therapy. From another perspective, Nakamura proves that even the most rarefied art can release the most personal and private reactions.

A Room of Her Own: Rai Naito and Light can be seen:

-Monday, May 1 at Innis Town Hall at 8:30 p.m.
Wednesday, May 3 at Scotiabank Theatre 7 at 3:45 p.m.

Liam Lacey is a freelance writer for and POV, Canada’s premiere magazine about documentaries and independent films.

Previously, he was a film critic for The Globe and Mail newspaper from 1995 to 2015. He has also contributed to such publications as Variety, Cinema Scope, Screen, and Entertainment Weekly, as well as broadcast outlets CBC and National Public Radio.

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