Romaji: Jibun no Koto Bakaride Nasakenaku Naru Yo
Running Time: 106 mins.
Release Date: October 26th, 2013
Director: Daigo Matsui
Writer: Daigo Matsui (Screenplay), Sekaikan Ozaki (Original Work)
Starring: Maho Yamada, Sei Ando, Shunsuke Daito, Mei Kurokawa, Sekaikan Ozaki, Sosuke Ikematsu, Kaonashi Hasegawa, Taku Koizumu, Yukiji Ogawa,
How Selfish I Am is an episodic musical drama exploring the loves and travails of a group of people in Tokyo, all of whom are connected together by the music of the rock group CreepHyp. A glib comparison might be Short Cuts by Raymond Carver/Robert Altman on a smaller scale with a post-rock soundtrack but just as much darkness and more visual and aural dazzle.
The film is the culmination of a long collaboration between filmmaker Daigo Matsui and the band CreepHyp, this is the final result of a series music videos made over the last few years¹ based on a story originally conceived by CreepHyp’s frontman, Sekaikan Ozaki. The episodic nature of the original music videos is carried over to a feature film format and expanded upon as it draws everything together into a final product which acts a musical showcase for the band, a creative director, and a strong ensemble cast.
We start off with Kumiko (Ando), a lonely girl working at a cosplay bar/brothel who pines after her ex-boyfriend (Onoue).
Kumiko is followed by Mie (Yamada), a mousy, introverted and put-upon office lady who adores CreeHyp, and has a Twitter addiction (@mieephyp0819 – yes, I write down Twitter handles in films) and a ticket to CreepHyp’s concert which she may miss because of problems at work.
The final, and longest sequence, involves a young homeless man named Rikuo (Ikematsu) who lives in two vans with a young woman (Kurokawa) who, due to a trauma in her past that has damaged her, refuses to speak.
The four stories weave together to create a sometimes funny but mostly tragic series of tales demonstrating the bleaker side of the Tokyo dream, all loneliness, frustration and desperation.
The theme of the film is desperation although it is not a word that the characters ever utter. Instead, Daigo Matsui takes the original series of stories, conventional when written on paper, and makes them unique by visually telling us everything about the character’s frustrations and problems while using CreepHyp’s music and physical presence to counterpoint and emphasise the emotions felt by the characters and the bleakness of their situations. This is most prominent in the earlier sections of the film which are the most visually and aurally compelling and fun.
Matsui shoots Kumiko’s section (the most upbeat of the four) almost entirely in monochrome, an interesting technique which helps show her lonely routine of returning home to a cold, empty and cluttered apartment to prepare meals for herself and her absent ex-boyfriend. We see Kumiko struggling through a series of unfortunate, though blackly comic events which make her consider returning to her hometown. Upon hearing the music of CreepHyp, she reminisces over the good times she experienced after her arrival in Tokyo and meeting her boyfriend. At this point colour bursts onto the screen, as does the band, and through a montage we see a flashback happier times all scored to an exciting rock track that pulses with such energy it captures you and makes the heart race! It is impossible not to be caught up in her emotions and reminiscences and we hope she can pick herself up and get together with her ex!
For Mie’s section, Daigo expertly uses cross-cutting between CreepHyp’s preparation for a concert with the office drudgery Mie endures. Through Twitter messages flashed up as on-screen text we see her interior voice. She is totally psyched about going to their upcoming concert but her colleagues abuse her good-nature and meekness by piling work on her on the day of the concert. With her iPod charged and earphones in she goes about mind-numbing work and using Twitter to relay increasingly bitter complaints about colleagues who continually take advantage of her. Enduring criticisms over behaviour from colleagues she takes to eating her lunch in the staff toilet, something that seems not too unfamiliar to her. She addresses her work and colleagues in an increasingly passive-aggressive manner.
Matsui cleverly contrasts the behind the scenes documentary feel of the section of CreepHyp’s rehearsals and colourful concert and with the deadening grey and artificial office world Mie inhabits. Both sections are shot with a languid pace at first but this pace picks up as the concert approaches and it is hard not to feel an insistent urge to root for Mie build, to tell her to just drop work and go see her favourite band. She shouldn’t be at work if it causes her as much heart-ache as we see and we desperately want her to get to the concert, a feeling fuelled by her increasingly hopeless Tweets like, “I lose followers the more I write,” which flash up on screen.
It builds to an emotionally powerful ending where Maho Yamada’s convincing acting and the lyrics of the band convey just how burnt out Mie is. Dissolves of the concert and close-ups of Yamada, who has been a picture of placidity in public in the office and rage in private, culminate in a moment when the emotional dam bursts. Throughout this section she has shown skill in modulating her emotions and it is heart-wrenching stuff to see her end!
Tsuda’s section is the shortest and yet arguably one of the bleakest. He has the look of an unabashed otaku who rarely interacts with others and when he does it is very awkwardly, a sort of hesitant nervousness which soon gives way to a hopeful smile before he reveals an uncouthness and anger that seems to be bred from a lack of human contact. He is an outsider and even seems bipolar in his behaviour since he is prone to sudden bursts of anger which sees him smash portable CD players up. His anger and frustration come from not being able to socialise with those around him and his only source of release is a pop idol he adores and who offers a source of happiness away from his loneliness. Following Mie, this is another example of how important music can be for people, especially those who struggle to communicate with others. Daigo shoots Tsuda’s section with flashbacks, flashforward, fast editing, sweeping pans and rapid cuts which heighten just how frantic Tsuda’s mindset is.
Where the film comes unstuck is with Rikuo’s story. It is presented in a fragmented way that combines monologues delivered straight to camera that are intercut with the wider story which is being told in flashback. Rikuo and the silent girl dance what becomes a dark and potentially dangerous game as he struggles to contain his anger and engages in physical and verbal acts of violence with her and other characters. Their connection with each other is complicated. He is impulsive, driven by his meagre circumstances to acts of spontaneous violence and affection. She refuses to open up to him and the two struggle to live in harmony despite their feelings for one another. Questions are raised such as why the girl stays with him and while her story is teased out, viewers are left to wonder and guess at just what is happening. When the big reveal comes it is not totally unexpected but getting to it is not as thrilling. In the final segment, the film becomes far more mundane in terms of editing, shot composition and most, importantly of all, because of the absence of the band. There is little music from them and the only appearance they make is a CD cover.
Creatively, it is a brave decision to go against the tide of rest of the film but for this reviewer, well, I wanted more of the energy from the earlier parts which were so enjoyable, the rush and excitement of fast cuts and excellent music, rather than a retread of another film which did the narrative better (clicking on this link would result in a massive spoiler) which I couldn’t help but think of. That written, the performances are still sympathetic in this part, with both Ikematsu and Kurokawa playing out a highly nuanced relationship full of violent affections and Daito impressively building upon his earlier nervous outsider role to become even scarier and desperate and lonely. Again, this one has another open ending which refuses to provide closure but assures us that life does go on.
Desperate is probably the best way to sum up the lives of the characters. Without having to tell the audience or milk the script for melodrama, Matsui skilfully shows people desperate for love and better lives and it hurts to watch (especially Mie’s section!). The brave performances, the episodic narrative structure of the script and CreepHyp’s music transforms what could have been a conventional misery narrative into an urgent and, at times, oddly upbeat, film that crackles with creativity and passion for much of its running time. Even in the final section, which didn’t hold my attention as strongly, there is a lot to think about and recommend it. Daigo Matsui shows that even in the darkness, there is some release whether it is through CreepHyp’s music or other people. Although the final segment is a comedown in terms of pace it demonstrates a pretty brave attitude from the director to his material, music and the actors. I want to watch the film again just to reassess certain things in the stories and I recommend it.
Gosh, this review has gone on a bit.
The title of the film is a mouthful to say in Japanese and my teacher got a laugh out of my efforts!
Daigo Matsui’s filmography mostly consists of adaptations of the gag manga Afro Tanaka (2012), Daily Lives of High School Boys (2013), and Sweet Poolside (2014). I guess those pay for films like this!
CreepHyp are good but there are others I like more. I should do a post about my favourite Japanese rock groups – the ones I listen to when I write reviews.
¹ For a taste of the film, you can watch the individual music videos here and others which feature the same actors but there are spoilers: