Love and Other Cults
Running Time: 95 mins
Release Date: March 26th, 2018
Director: Eiji Uchida
Writer: Eiji Uchida (Screenplay),
Starring: Sairi Ito, Kenta Suga, Kaito Yoshimura, Hidenobu Abera, Antony, Denden, Hanae Kan, Leona Hirota, Tomoko Hayakawa,
Not every romance is clean and tidy but the latest film from Eiji Uchida, director of Greatful Dead (2014) and Lowlife Love (2016) is the messiest and grimiest one you will see without Takashi Miike levels of gore and craziness involved. This story of star-crossed lovers is, however, everyday crazy as we see the lowest of Japanese society try and claw their way out of small town criminality and exploitation.
The film’s central couple are Ai (Sairi Itoh) and Ryota (Kenta Suga). The two meet in school and sparks start flying almost immediately but their passion is of the confrontational kind where arguments flare up. Unable to recognise love or express it, they part ways and meet up again at various points in their lives. The reason for their fractious relationship is that neither has had a stable home. We get Ai’s story for the most part and glimpses of Ryota’s while he also offers narration over the entire film which acts like a Greek chorus summing up what has gone wrong for the characters. Indeed, Ai’s story is one of constant tragedy and a search for a family.
She gets off to an inauspicious start thanks to a religious-maniac mother who sticks her in a cult and then she lands with a gang of drug-users and high-school dropouts. Things get better with a traditional nuclear family before she loses things again. Throughout every “family”, she is exploited in some way but she also tries to exploit her own gifts to remain part of the fabric of other people’s lives, whether it is by physical means or a talent such as cooking. When her character uses her physicality, it speaks of how her sense of self and her position in society are warped from previous encounters. From the get-go, she uses pain to attract attention and, when she grows old enough and has been groomed by others, she sees her physical body as a vessel to find happiness.
While she bounces around different environments, Ryota follows a similar path as he falls in with a gang of wannabe yakuza only he is never sexualised to the extent that Ai is. He is physically brutalised which is shown in unglamorous fight scenes where everyday objects are utilised as weapons or fists and kicks are the preferred method of beating someone. Initially adding doses of comedy as dull characters get struck, the film builds in seriousness as the world of gangs gets explored. The constant throughout everything is that what Ai goes through is a sexual hazing that is unpleasant to watch but the most troubling fate is handed to Reika (Hanae Kan), an underwater photographer, who is punished for dating Kenta (Anthony), the leader of Ryota’s gang. Her treatment and ending is disappointing especially because her relationship with Kenta acts as an interesting and more hopeful counterpoint to Ai and Ryota’s and the two have a good chemistry together which takes the film out of the filth for just a moment.
Overall, while the physical surroundings of the characters are a believably miserable mess, Eiji Uchida’s writing is skilful enough to show its emotional impact as he orchestrates a large number of character arcs neatly and efficiently. No scene or sequence drags and every second counts for something and every story seems to reach a natural conclusion with doses of black humour from the character interactions and individual’s quirks. The sprightly rhythm and quirky humour make the film slightly less darker than Eiji Uchida’s earlier works such as “Grateful Dead” and “Lowlife Love” and there is a little hope as we see a generation of kids coping with exploitation and betrayals from their elders and pushing through.
This film represents a look into the under-seen side of Japan and it’s low-budget grungy nature gives it an uncomfortable set of circumstances but a fresh down-at-heel vibe as small city Japan is put on screen and the characters venture around those less-than nice areas tucked away from the main roads and shotengai that surround JR stations. Cinematography is by Maki Ito who has worked on Sion Sono’s latest films and the lensing and camerawork is stable, crisp, and controlled and the fact it mostly takes place during bright sunny days changes the atmosphere. There are even beautiful shots such as a trip to Mount Fuji and Reika and Kenta and their experiences diving. The visuals also allow the viewer to pick out sight gags left by set-designers such as calligraphy and graffiti with words and phrases tied to themes of the film and, most importantly, the actors giving good performances.
“Love and Other Cults” actually works as a great partner for “Destruction Babies” as a way of showing the grimier side of Japanese society done via low-budget film-makers. Uchida’s film stands out for its sunnier disposition thanks to its central heroine.