In recent years, the study of the essay film has recalibrated interest in challenging its Eurocentrism in theory production and geopolitical hierarchy (Hollweg and Kristić 2019; K. T. Yu and Lebow 2020). At the same time, it has expanded from a (post)structuralist mode that asks ‘what essay is’ to interrogating what the essay does—particularly, how essay film thinks (Rascaroli 2017; Warner 2018). As indicated by Yu, a translocal and transnational perspective on essayistic cinema is required to pay more attention to the ‘alternative methods of interrogation’, particularly to the ‘features of the essayistic and the “screen-writing” process in cultures with different socio-political contexts, distinctive cultural, philosophical and literary traditions, as well as unrelated linguistic structures’ (2019, 173). The aesthetic and epistemological potentialities of the essay film should not be reduced to a checklist of generic characteristics and filmmaking approaches that have presumably ‘spread’ or been ‘translated’ from its Euro-American centres to non-Western locales, for example to the 1960s Japan (see Rascaroli 2017, 3).
Importantly, the ‘essayistic’ can be used strategically to foreground ‘the transgeneric character of the essay, its propensity not to stay put within a single set of attributes’ (Warner 2018, 6). Addressing the politics of the essay film, Rascaroli has emphasised its ‘anachronism’ (Rascaroli 2017, 5–6). For her, a ‘future philosophy’ underlies the transgressive nature of the essayistic form, regarding how it is ‘inherently contrarian, not of its time, and incessantly transforming’ (2017, 188). In unpacking essayistic thinking, Rascaroli uses Gilles Deleuze’s conceptualisation of ‘interstice’ to examine the ‘filmic in-betweenness’, the location of ‘epistemological strategies’ mobilised by the essay film to facilitate its ‘thinking’ (2017, 7;15).
Deleuze designates interstice as ‘the method of BETWEEN’ and ‘the method of AND’ (1989, 180), locating interstice ‘“between two images”…Between two actions, between two affections, between two perceptions, between two visual images, between two sound images, between the sound and the visual’ (1989, 180). For Deleuze, interstice is specific to the discussion of time-image: whereas in movement-images, the flow and association of images or sequences can be grasped by the ‘sensory-motor linkage’, made perceptible often through the actions of the film protagonist(s) who would navigate the audiences through the diegetic space upon a narrative logic of linearity. In the regime of the time-image, however, the ‘sensory-motor linkage’ is loosened and breaks down, wherein ‘perceptions and actions cease to be linked together’ (1989, 40-41). Interstice then underpins how a series of images and soundtracks are configured and connected via the ‘disjunction’, understood as ‘an incommensurable or “irrational” relation which connects them to each other, without forming a whole’ (Deleuze 1989, 256).
Agreeing with Rascaroli that the interstitial aesthetics is not only specific to essay film, we may take interstice as a critical heuristic to approach the formal disjunctures and stylistic incommensurables concerning the landscape films under examination. Turning to how the progression of the series of images (and soundtracks) is opened up to uncertainties and probabilities, we could focus on essay film’s spectatorial engagement. For Timothy Corrigan, what the interstice creates is not ‘spectatorial “identification”’, nor ‘a version of Brechtian “alienation”, a position of unfamiliar exclusion from that world represented’, but ‘a suspended position of intellectual opportunity and potential’ (2011, 44). Generative of an association of potentiality and new meanings that radically call images into question, interstice is therefore closely associated with a ‘thinking spectator’ (Rascaroli 2017, 10).
Meanwhile, although interstice still allows us to attend to the issues of (authorial) subjectivity and reflexivity that underline the essayistic form, the analysis is not necessarily confined to the enunciation (of the self) and vococentrism, namely ‘the cinematic soundtrack’s prioritisation of the human voice over sound effects and music’ (Harvey 2012, 7). Considering the attention paid by David Oscar Harvey to the ‘modes of perception and affect’ in non-vococentric essay, one could use interstice as a useful angle to unpack how certain landscape films engage spectators via ‘the compositions of the image, editing or non-vocal manipulations of the soundtrack’ and so forth, even in cases where the voice-overs are not deployed to directly articulate personal reflections, or when the films ‘inquire, opine, wonder, and doubt, but without words’ (2012, 20), which is instrumental in grasping Takamine Gō’s Okinawan Dream Show. In A.K.A. Serial Killer, for instance, while the ubiquitous point-of-view shots in hand-held style suggest the strongly-felt presence of the author(s), arguably, the authorial ‘voice’ mainly emerges ‘from the play and arrangement of images’ in relation to the interstitial strategies (Harvey 2012, 19). For Adachi and his comrades, their daring ‘re-enactment’ is an experiment in the possibilities engendered through a journey of virtuality, wherein the images (soundtracks) are assembled in a non-hierarchical, anachronistic manner wherein each shot or sequence is rendered autonomous and becomes independent from the shot preceding or following it. Onto such a ‘space of virtual conjunction’ (Deleuze 1997, 109), the viewer is provoked to imagine places that Nagayama could have visited (or attempted to go, such as Hong Kong), and to envision the landscapes that the young man could have seen and experienced (see Adachi and Hirasawa 2003, 287–300).