What the Heart Desires: Persona in Kasane
Kasane (dir. Yuuichi Sato, 2018) asks: “What does your heart desire?” Superficially, the film seems concerned, if not obsessed, with beauty. Beauty is seemingly all that protagonist Kasane Fuchi (Kyoko Yoshine) yearns for. Her ugliness, hardly believable for the audience––Kasane’s actress Kyoko Yoshine is beautiful, as are all actresses––imprisons her, resulting in perpetual social mockery and an inferiority complex. Kasane excels at acting, as did her late mother, a well-loved stage-actress. Though Kasane desires to follow in her mother’s footsteps, her appearance prevents her from doing so. The film fabricates her ugliness via a deep Joker-esque scar curving upwards from the right corner of her mouth to her eye. Even before acquiring this facial deformity in a twisted accident, her school classmates bully Kasane for her (unconvincing) ugliness. Nina Tanazawa (Tao Tsuchiya) is, unlike Kasane, a beauty. She too dreams of being a celebrated actress, but lacks Kasane’s talent. A magic tube of lipstick allows Kasane to take what she desires from any person she kisses. From Nina, it is her beauty that Kasane longs for; when they kiss they switch faces, taking on a disguise that lasts for twelve hours. The two step into each other’s lives for an opportunity at stardom, tumbling into a tumultuous relationship. With all this attention to appearance, Kasane trips over its own narcissism. But behind its flaws is an attempt to explore identity.
Carl Jung’s theory of persona acts as a useful framework for Kasane’s preoccupation with identity. This Jungian concept in analytical psychology takes its name from the “Greek term for a mask, as would have been worn by actors.” As the word suggests, the persona is performative, constructed––there is nothing real about it. Jung writes:
“[The persona] is a compromise between individual and society as to what a man should appear to be. He takes a name, earns a title, exercises a function, he is this or that. In a certain sense all this is real, yet in relation to the essential individuality of the person concerned it is only a secondary reality, a compromise formation, in making which others often have a greater share than he. The persona is a semblance, a two-dimensional reality, to give it a nickname (Adler, 158, emphasis added).”
In Kasane the performance of persona is made explicit. When they switch faces, Kasane and Nina step into a role and put on an act. They assume each other’s physical appearance but their identities remain in disjunction with their metamorphosed selves. Their outward selves––their perceived ugliness and beauty––filters their experiences of the world, giving them (partial) access to each other’s “compromise between the [self] and society.”
The film’s particular attention to the gaze of others highlights the share society has in the formation of Kasane and Nina’s personas. I would argue that the gaze in question here is the specifically male gaze, being entirely absorbed in the spectacle of female beauty. Kingo Habuta (Tadanobu Asano), Kasane’s manager, and formerly her mother’s manager, embodies this beauty hungry gaze. Habuta knows Kasane’s secret and encourages her––violently––to manipulate Nina, to steal her face and reach stardom. His obsession with Kasane mirrors his obsession with her mother––whose beauty is also revealed to be stolen. Habuta sits in a room, his gaze consuming a blown up image of Kasane’s mother. Made up of squares, her face is put together like a puzzle. A slight breeze lifts the edges up, breaking the image’s integrity. Kasane was capable of delving deeper into the intricacies of beauty standards and its particular undertones of male validation, but much of it falls flat. “You know what moment moves the audience the most?” Habuta says, “When that fakeness is transcended into reality.” What does this fakeness imply for Kasane? Why do audiences love this? The film can’t answer these questions, hindered by a male-gaze fueled fit of jealousy between Kasane and Nina who quarrel over the love of theater director Reita Ugo (Yū Yokoyama).
The deeper the two dive into their twisted relationship, the line between true self and performed identity blurs. After a 5-month sleep, induced by a drink laced with sleeping pills (inducing her Sleeping Beauty syndrome), Nina wakes up to a Kasane with her face and a radically altered personality. Kasane seems to have adopted her life: her peppy speech, her diet, even her relationship with her mother. During Nina’s long sleep, Kasane’s career has taken off. She has taken the role of Salomé in a run of Oscar Wilde’s eponymous play––a role which transforms at the film’s end into a meta-performance, re-enacting their relationship.
Salomé holds Jokanaan’s decapitated head. Jokanaan is the object of her love––but also her hatred, for he had rejected her. Having obtained his head, he now belongs to her forever. Kasane, as Salomé, caresses the prop head: “You were the only man. The only man I loved. I loath other men. Only you were beautiful.” Kasane’s image switches between ‘her’s’ and ‘Nina’s,’ as do their voices. “Nay, I do love you know. Jokanaan. You are the only one I love,” she says, lifting up Jokanaan’s head to the sky. Suddenly the prop head is Nina’s head, Kasane’s wide eyes enraptured by her. She brings her head down, kissing her. The direct mapping of Salomé onto their relationship extends their queerness past male-fantasy. But it also maintains questions of persona: Who is Kasane? Who is Nina? Have their personas merged?
Adler, Gerhard, and R. F. C. Hull, editors. “The Persona as a Segment of the Collective Psyche.” Collected Works of C.G. Jung, Volume 7: Two Essays in Analytical Psychology, by C. G. Jung, Princeton University Press, Princeton, N.J., 1966, pp. 156–162. JSTOR, http://www.jstor.org/stable/j.ctt5hhr7s.18. Accessed 28 Mar. 2021.