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His Motorbike, Her Island (Nobuhiko Obayashi, 1986)

Here Comes the Rain Again,

Falling on my Head, Like a Memory”

Annie Lennox

We’re never really alone. We can feel it on our skin. A presence gently announcing itself or tussling our hair like an older sibling might do. She’s always there, underneath the beating heart of the sun and the soft bed of the sky. Like a human, she’ll shift and evolve, curve and break on the edges of bodies. Looking for the wind becomes less of a quest and closer to a prayer that the Earth is still breathing upon her children. She knows every last one of us, has touched the soul of every child who can feel her, or hear her, just outside the realm of visibility. Even if we’re gone, she’ll still sing, still gust with stories of everyone she met as a natural goddess of Earth. She’ll bend for eternity, but she’ll never break under the weight of all her lost children.  

I’m looking for the wind, and then I’m going to take a nap”

Ko (Riki Takeuchi) drives a motorbike and dreams in monochrome. He wears a leather jacket, a white t-shirt, denim, of course, and brown riding boots. A uniform for the free man. He’s restless, looking for something more than life can offer him, but he’s not the kind of man who would say he needs an anchor in life or something to push his narrative forward. All he needs is a stiff kick, and the loud crack of an engine giving way to the next chapter in his life. Whatever happens will happen, and he’s carefree in that belief. It’s easy to fall for a guy like him, with his abs, cocky smile and his allegiance to the road. A woman could only ever be third place for Ko after his bike and after pavement. She might believe her truest task is convincing him that she’d offer more depth than the unpredictability of whatever may come out of the curve, with the wind by his side, but she’d be wrong. It’s why men give things like bikes she/her pronouns. Ko’s already married to the wind, and he has a relationship with her that doesn’t require responsibility, only trust, that she’d be behind his back and on his flesh as he blares off into the distance, where only sound would remain for women who’d look on.  

Miyo (Kiwako Harada) is a surprise coming out of a curve. Ko falls for her instantly in that way characters in movies do. On the surface she’s perfect. She takes pictures, keeps her eyes open to whatever life may throw at her, and listens to what comes ahead. She’s in love with his motorbike, a Kawasaki. She notes that Ko has the same name as his bike, like they’re made for each other, and she wants to ride. She wants to be his. It’d maybe be more truthful to say that she wants what Ko has: the wind. Like the wind, she becomes soft, barely there, but still present in Ko’s memory. She flashes back in when the two wild at heart kids run into each other, as if by fate. And, because this is a movie, the opening title card states as bluntly, they’re pulled toward each other. They’ll remember each other forever, and their time on the island, on the road, will echo into eternity.  

Director Nobuhiko Obayashi’s insistence to shoot the romantic sequences and the more important moments of the film in monochrome, which bends into colour, functions like memory. We want to remember certain memories as perfect, as cinematic as possible. It doesn’t matter if that’s how they actually happened, because the memory of how we remembered it is definitive. A picture can lie, because it can’t mutate or evolve with time, but memory bends to context and emotion. It can have jump-cuts, moments where music swells, and sequences where the world only belongs to you. The road is kind of like that too. You can soundtrack it to whatever music you’d like in your car or on your bike or in your heart. Each passing town or house or inch of pavement can open up a new chapter in your life. You don’t even have to know where you’re going, because the road will point you in the right direction. When Ko and Miyo start riding motorbikes together they drift apart when one takes a new intersection, but always circle back to one another when the road meets again. They swerve in and out of one another on completely abandoned highways. It may have not happened like that exactly, but film isn’t a place for realism and neither is memory. They dart back and forth between one another like a metaphor for two people truly in love. She was him. He was her. They both lived behind the wind, pulled into one image. Even if life has a way of pulling someone out of perfection and into a back-highway of desolation you can still rest easy knowing that you and perfection will always be back then. In Clint Eastwood’s, A Perfect World (1993), there’s a short monologue about cars being time machines. Everything in front of you is the future, and everything in that rear-view mirror is the past. Maybe this is why we make movies about cars, about motorbikes, about love.  

originally published 06/27/2019

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