Episode 6: Fear a Direct Hit

Old lady smokes.

Old lady smokes.

Paranoia Agent has used interconnected plot lines from the start, but never as assuredly as it does here. “Fear a Direct Hit” mixes two storylines expertly (replete with flashbacks), letting a long pair of interrogations by our detectives alternate with the story of a young lady, Taeko, who walks out in the storm-drenched streets of Tokyo with nowhere to go. As she walks, she remembers scenes from her childhood as a consummate daddy’s girl. The two interrogations are of the old lady then Sugi, with the old detective his blustery self, and the young detective playing a good cop. They try to get the truth out of the old lady – she was a witness to the first attack on Sugi. What really happened?

The subtextual connecting tissue between the two stories is the revision of the past. Everything the detectives thought they knew about Sugi’s assault at the hands of Lil’ Slugger is up-ended, as is everything in Taeko’s reminiscence of the life she knew.

A typhoon sets the stage – like in King Lear, the weather reflects the turmoil of the subjects. When the police detectives get their major revelation, the old woman’s tarp shanty is literally blown away around them (right at the same time Taeko is on her phone, saying “I wish our house would disappear!”). In each case, the revelation devastates.

For Taeko, it is the discovery of a folder on her dad’s computer – pictures. Of her. Undressing. When she sees them she tears her room apart, finding a camera installed behind her bookcase.

Young lady through the camera lens.

Young lady through the camera lens installed behind her bookcase.

For the detectives, they discover that Sugi was never attacked. She injured herself. Took a piece of pipe she found in the parking lot and set her ankle against the curb. Smash smash.

So if Shonen Bat didn’t hurt her…didn’t exist…where the hell did he come from?

Taeko aborts a suicide attempt when she sees the old woman drowning in the flood waters from the typhoon, but it isn’t hard to see why she’d want to destroy herself. Her father was, in very real terms, her connective tissue to life. When she’s bullied at school, she threatens the boys that she’ll “tell her dad.”

Her dad just happens to be Masami Hirukawa, the rapist-thief-cop from ep 4. Considering he’s a complete monster of id, even with his family, his reaction to Taeko’s disappearance is strangely touching. While his house sinks into the mud from the typhoon, he screams her name into the phone, terrified that something happened to her. Even if we decide that the kid from the previous episode isn’t Shonen Bat (if there is a Shonen Bat), it becomes clear that Masami could not be saved/attacked – he doesn’t have any real connections to life. He loves nothing.  There’s nothing he can lose but his pleasure. Taeko lost her father, and without the ability (the weakness?) to kill herself, she collapses on the bridge, begging for help.

The truth hits Sugi (but does it feel like a kiss?)

The truth hits Sugi (but does it feel like a kiss?)

In comes Shonen Bat. Bam. For a fraud who doesn’t exist, he’s a busy guy. When Taeko awakens, her father is at her side. He tells her that what she wished for happened. The house was gone – and he looks contrite, like he thought he deserved it. Taeko’s response: “Who are you?” Shonen Bat saves another one. Taeko’s identity was wrapped up in her father, and when that was lost, she was lost. Shonen Bat just completed the process.

Paranoia Agent, for the most part, balances horror and mystery. The previous episode was a dip into Excel Saga-style genre antics, but most of the episodes are about terrifying personal revelation and extreme social anxiety. In some ways, they are the inverse of the “everyone’s connected” films that have clogged our independent cinema for years. Instead of looking at the delicate way lives are touched by unseen hands, we see the terror, sometimes unwittingly wrought, by those to whom we are tangentially or even directly connected. Inside every closet are skeletons, some still with flesh.

But Paranoia Agent does not argue, like, say, Sweeney Todd, that inside of every man beats the heart of a monster waiting to be unleashed. It is more about the impossibility of understanding someone completely, even to those who try desperately to understand. Consider the professor who asks the assistant/whore to marry him. He might brim with passion for her, but it is impossible to see. He is so controlled.

Another Japanese film that Paranoia Agent comes close to is Kairo, Kiyoshi Kurosawa’s masterpiece of horror. It posited that the hunger for connection is so deep, and modern life so undeserving, that people would seek a connected oblivion over their separate lives.

Excuse me... Who are you?

Excuse me… Who are you?

In “Fear a Direct Hit”, worlds, houses, and ideas crumble. Starting from zero is the only option, because all the connections that came before were based on odorous lies. Everything is broken.

About Kent Conrad

To contact Kent Conrad, email kentc@explodedgoat.com