is literally and figuratively a cry in the darkness of contemporary life in our ever growing metropolitan conurbations.
The film begins with a slow carefully composed pan on a sleeping young couple in what seems to be a working class flat in a modern housing block. The camera lovingly focuses on the feet of the young people, holes in her socks highlighted, to slowly travel up to the face of Haru, a young university student engaged in a fruitless relationship with a young man working in a thesis at the university as well, who is only interested in sex and who is indifferent to her emotional needs, as this initial scene conveys when he turns his back to her. The emotional and cinematic tone of the whole film is set here.
Haru is a dispirited young woman, in despair of the emptiness of her liaison with her boyfriend: she observes him eating noodles voraciously, while she just stares, hardly eating at all, with a look on her face saying: “How on earth I got involved with him?” She behaves and she walks like someone for whom every step taken is a step too many, her whole body language conveys that impression of emotional emptiness in a show of subtle acting.
Riko boldly approaches and engages her in conversationr in a café, her attitude being physical from the very beginning of their relationship as she cleans Haru’s upper lip from traces of a chocolate drink. She likes the softness and the smell of girls, she likes to touch and be touched. Haru accepts her atteentions, however reluctantly at first, being unsure about Riko’s intentions – who claims that she is not recruiting for a religious cult or the sex trade.
Haru’s so-called boyfriend keeps shunning her for another woman, in spite that he keeps swearing his love for her. She spies on him, she knows what he is doing to her. This drives her towards Riko, who seems to offer her in a very self-confident manner the real love and emotional fulfilment she is craving for.
Riko is apparently a bold young woman, very sure of herself, working as an artist/craftswoman making prosthetic parts. However, as the relationship between them develops, her mask of apparent strength starts to breakdown, as her love for Haru is intermittently accepted and rejected.
The balance of power between the two girls subtly changes as Haru slowly drifts towards her fellow university classmates, a world from which Riko feels excluded. The girls slowly drift apart. Riko develops a relationship with one of her customers, an older woman for whom she has been making a synthetic breast, after she meets her after work in a sex bar for lonely hearts. The older woman clearly holds the reigns, Haru’s ghost haunts Riko, and she escapes. Now she is the one sleepwalking, her confidence all gone.
This is a tale of the need for love and human contact in the loneliness of our ever growing cities; a perceptive study of the complexities of human relationships taking place in the midst of the shapelessness of an urban environment constantly buzzing around them, and the changes in the balance of power built in those relationships.
The cinematography clearly conveys the changing moods and liaisons between the characters, whilst giving a sense of place and time in carefully composed and photographed shots, although some of the flashbacks at the beginning of the film seem to me to be unnecessary and, frankly, quite annoying. I found the scene were a water bottle thrown high in the air becomes an owl that flows away to be dangerously close to be a cliché (which highlights the problem of how to convey hope in modern cinema without falling back onto the flying birds or horses galloping into the wilderness). The music score beautifully suggests mood rather than highlighting the plot.
A perceptive tale of love, rejection and growing up in contemporary Japan beautifully shot, if somewhat rambling, continuing a fine tradition in Japanese cinema of closely observed human relationships.
Dir: Momoko Andô Japan 2009 - Erika Sakurazawa (manga)
Cast: Riko (Eriko Nakamura), Haru (Hikari Mitsushima), Ken Mitsuishi
UK RELEASE DATE: 2 April 2010
Opening at ICA
& selected regional sites
DVD UK release Date: 21st June 2010
Distributed in the UK by Third Window Films:
All images copyright Zero Pictures and Third Window Films.