Japanese Title: 恋の渦
Romaji: Koi no Uzu
Release Date: March 30th 2013 (Japan)
Running Time: 138 mins
Director: Hitoshi Ōne
Writer: Daisuke Miura (Original work/Screenplay),
Starring: Kenta Niikura, Naoko Wakai, Chihiro Shibata, Yuumi Goto, Kenta Enya, Hiroki Ueda, Daisuke Sawamura, Aya Kunitake, Sadaharu Matsushita,
Audiences used to the stereotypes of Japan where everything is kawaii and the people are all formality, blushing confessions, shyness and kindness, all the desu and degozaimasu heard in keigo (honorific language) will be in for a shock as Be My Baby exposes an unpleasant underbelly of J-pop culture with a bruising blue-black comedy about a group of fashion-conscious sex obsessed characters with more interest in carnal pleasures than their futures. Be My Baby is a razor-sharp satire of “gyaru” culture which sticks the camera into the steamy and chaotic love lives of a group of sleazy, emotionally damaged and desperate characters who betray each other with hilarious and scary ease.
The film opens in a cramped Tokyo apartment which is going to be the location of a potluck party for a group of twenty-somethings.
The hosts are the desperately congenial Tomoko (Wakai) and her alpha-male boyfriend Koji (Niikura). They hope to set up Koji’s friend Osamu (Enya) with Tomoko’s co-worker Yuko (Goto) who is billed as looking like the AKB48 idol Mariko Shinoda.
Also invited is Tomoko’s friend, the rather foxy and sexually rather forward and seemingly sophisticated Kaori (Shibata) and Koji’s friend Yuta (Matsuzawa) who brings his childhood friend and flat mate Takashi (Sawamura), a puppyish clown fresh from the countryside who is trying to make it in Tokyo. They are soon joined by Koji’s cool brother Naoki (Ueda) and his docile girlfriend Satomi (Kunitake).
Everybody at this party has part-time jobs, most working during the night, so this is their chance to don gaudy clothes, party, blow off steam and have fun. It sounds innocent enough until the boys start talking and their idea of fun is revealed as being loud and obnoxious and Osamu is the punchline of every joke. The biggest joke for the guys soon appears when Yuko shows up and she proves to be less sexy than advertised.
The guys are beside themselves at the prospect of seeing Osamu and Yuko together and when he shows up they launch into a tirade of jokes aimed at Yuko and Osamu. The night ends awkwardly.
Things get a lot messier hours later and the guys and girls are back in their own apartments and relationships are examined. Takashi is obsessed with Kaori and seemingly catches her heart as she reciprocates his advances to an extent while Koji’s domineering attitude results in him emotionally bullying and arguing with Tomoko over a social slight and she responds with nothing but apologies. Satomi is bothered by Naoki’s inattention. Meanwhile, Osamu, seemingly dead-set against Yuko, takes her home.
And things get even messier as the film proceeds…
Be My Baby is an indie film with a cast of excellent actors who deliver convincing performances in a scathing black comedy exploiting gyaru cculture. It is also an important title because it gives an insight into a new trend emerging in Japanese cinema with the workshop system, an alternative to the traditional studio system that quickly produces fresh work.
Be My Baby is the latest release from Cinema Impact, a filmmaking workshop where actors pay money to a producer who hires an experienced director and crew and gets the film shot. The actors find themselves the stars of a feature with a degree of buzz attached to it, thanks to the hired talent involved whilst also gaining valuable experience.
In the tough and highly competitive world of Japanese filmmaking where actors are worked hard in multiple features and salaries are low, this is a guarantee of an appearance in a feature and it acts as a calling card for the actors.
Be My Baby was shot in four days in a few in-door sets for a budget of under $10,000 with Hitoshi One, director of the mainstream big budget mega-hit Moteki (Love Strikes!) crossing over to the indie world to provide the actors with the best stage to display their craft. His direction and the film’s screenplay provides the actors with the best calling card to introduce the actors to the movie world.
Give us a bit of a laugh
The script has its roots in a theatre production by the director and dramatist Daisuke Miura and its theatre origins are clear from the way the film is dialogue heavy, demanding that the actors be pitch-perfect in the way they deliver their rapid-fire lines if they are to maintain character.
The actors do maintain it and with skill. They don the tacky and trashy fashion and they dye their hair and adopt the vocal intonations with such skill that they disappear into the roles which are tragi-comic as we see a bunch of twenty-somethings act like overgrown teens bouncing into and out of bad relationships and deriving a degree of entertainment from it.
Physically and verbally, the actors hit the mark. Their behaviour reminds one of vulgar teenagers who are simultaneously hyper self-aware and self-conscious. They project big personas full of bravado but are essentially unsure of themselves. Boys may spout misogynistic lines and berate their girls but behind the macho façade is the fear of losing them as is revealed by the way they can switch from yelling abuse to being love-sick puppies or begging for forgiveness. The girls demean themselves by clinging on to the men, appealing to their egos by being nymphos or apologising relentlessly to the point of incoherence but when not with their guys, they can be quite ruthless in their dealings with each other.
The way characters can change roles is intense and intensely insane but totally in character.
The characters barrage each other with quick-fire lines full of latent hatred and desperate desire delivered in every vocal register. They conform to types such as domineering and submissive, sex-mad and romantic but it’s all a facade and it soon becomes clear that the characters are manipulative, superficial, parasitical, and insecure to a grimly and amusingly absurd degree as they spin back and forth betraying each other.
Characters can be self-demeaning and duplicitous and there is comedy seeing the constantly changing situations and characters switch personas from friends to enemies, aggressive to apologetic.
One gets the sense that these youngsters are ignoring growing up so they can keep playing a role but there’s also the feeling that the characters seem profoundly broken, the women needy to the point of helplessness and the men immature and all refusing to grow up and become adults. It makes the comedy so jet-black as to be indistinguishable from a tragedy and laughing felt difficult.
What makes it even more intense is the way the film has been caught by the camera which is why an experienced director like Hitoshi One was hired. He takes a relentlessly close approach to filming the scenes and we feel like we’re ploughing into the intimate and incestious lives of a group of no-hopers. The few locations and tight, cluttered sets where the walls are plastered with posters of gravure idols are a sign of the low-budget put to good use as it forces the actors to be constantly on top of each other.
We are trapped in the tiny rooms littered with items that tell so much about the character’s consumerist lifestyles. They love their gaudy gyaru get-ups, the sparkly clothes and the dyed hair, the video games and smart phones with which they constantly check up on each other and this all serves as a distraction from the fact that, despite putting on confident fronts, they don’t really know what they want and have avoided thinking about their futures. The only thing they care about is their image and sex and those tight sets ensure that the erotic frisson is delivered as they paw each other.
For actors who need to be put on display so their talent can shine, the script is perfect since it gives them a series of such talky and callous, insincere characters in a series of scenes that expose their falseness and inner troubles both physically and verbally. The constant use of close-ups and mid-shots reveal a group of actors who have become absorbed in their characters. These are products of gyaru culture.
The only downside is that spending over two hours with these people can be trying and time could be shaved off.
The ending is very open. None of the characters looks to be in possession of anything like a new perspective on life or maturity and it is troubling and realistic to see the lack of resolution. One hopes that they grow up. One also hopes that the actors get more work from this title because the idea that any of these actors had to pay to work is frankly insane as they are so massively talented that they create characters who are scarily believable. See this film if you want to witness a tour-de-force in acting, directing and set design.