One-Up is a clever short film directed by Eimi Imanishi that focuses on concepts of sexuality and sexual awakening. It explores a young woman named Hadley’s sexuality by focusing on two different kinds of relationships that she has. Her discomfort in specific scenes hints at some of the limitations and standards that are placed on sexuality in our world.
Initially, Hadley appears to be shy and reserved. In the opening scene where she is in the locker room with the other girls, she isn’t participating in the discussion. She is simply observing and then she just leaves to go to the rink. The conversation is the first of many nods to the concept of sexuality throughout the film. In the first scene, the discussion is pretty raw and has unfiltered phrases, but that lack of censorship is what makes it feel so real as well. At that age especially, the topic is spoken of with vulgarity and jokes are made. It’s a normative condition of society to talk this way and yet Hadley doesn’t engage with the other girls at all. She appears completely on the outside of their intimate conversation. I think her inability to connect in this scene is a foreshadowing of Hadley’s conflict with her own sexuality. She, like most teenagers and even adults, is not comfortable with her body. It is through experimenting with her sexuality that she tries to find that comfort.
One of the film’s strengths is that it has specific scenes where the topic of sexuality arises and it’s shown in a very realistic, awkward way. For example, there is the scene where Hadley is hanging out with the girls. It’s completely different from the opening sequence where she is less social. In this sequence, she is drinking and she tries something risky with her breathing. So, the motivation here is not to observe but to become active in the scene. She’s trying to ease into their group and possibly to impress her crush. She ends up making a move on her crush, but gets rejected. It’s important to note that not only is this scene significant because it is a clear rejection to Hadley’s body, but this scene is also where her sexuality gets labeled. It’s also labeled here by someone other than her, which means she has lost even more control of her grasp on her sexuality. Up until now, it was ambiguous and to have her crush express disgust toward her is destructive to her perception of self and to her body. Especially if she is experimenting with her sexuality, this rejection can become a trauma that prevents her from discovering things about her body and ever truly accepting it.
Another example of awkward sexuality is in the bedroom scene. The whole vibe comes across as aggressive and disturbing rather than romantic or even seductive. It’s not presented as a beautiful, intoxicating scene for the reason that this film as a whole is meant to reveal some of the uncomfortable aspects of sexuality. The very fact that it’s centered on this girl who is sort of experimenting and trying out different things in her love life shows why this film can’t be like the thousands of other movies about a teenage girl. Most stories would probably give her a dramatic love story and then turn it into a love triangle, followed by a possible pregnancy scare.
With this film, even the main character (Hadley) is portrayed in an impressively raw, complex way that makes it difficult to just throw this girl in a category and write her off as one thing. Her sexuality doesn’t really have a label on it or at least she doesn’t put label on it, which is liberating. She is attracted to two different people who just happen to be different genders. She isn’t the one to ever identify her sexuality, which is progressive and realistic. People are attracted to people and sometimes that means they aren’t thinking of gender when they realize they like someone.
What I enjoyed most about this film however was how it presented Hadley’s body and her emotions as two separate things. Both parts of her have needs and yet when one is satisfied, the other is left neglected. When she feels she has a real connection with her crush and kisses her, it is her body that becomes the obstacle (the reason for her rejection). When she has a physical connection with the guy, she has trouble communicating with him afterward with words.