空っぽの渦 「Karappo no uzu」
Running Time: 20 mins.
Release Date: May 2015
Director: Noriko Yuasa,
Writer: Noriko Yuasa, Takato Nishi (Screenplay),
Starring: Kaho Ishido, Honoka Murakami, Tomomi Furusato, Kazuki Fukiage, Rie Mashiko, Hiroaki Ookawa, Bunki Sugiura, Lehman F. Kondo,
Noriko Yuasa followed her directorial debut Looking for my lost sunflowers with this film, a more ambitious tale both stylistically and storywise as she explodes a teenage girl’s life on screen and touches on extremes of emotions.
Mizuho (Kaho Ishido) is a highschooler in a difficult situation: she is the product of a single-parent household somewhere in Tokyo, money is tight and so she works a part-time job at a dating website where she pretends to be a love connection for lonely men and this is added on to the difficulties of adolescence as she struggles to find her path in life. The road ahead darkens when, one day, whilst working at the dating site, she gets a message from a man named Kenzo (Lehman F. Kondo) who asks her to assist him in his suicide. Money is on offer. What will Mizuho do?
What makes Mizuho’s dilemma affecting, apart from the fact that we are dealing with someone’s potential death, is how we are drawn into adolescent pains as she encounters independence in a world beset by unfairness and brutality and this is enhanced through deliberate over-saturation of audio and visuals.
Mizuho might have enough moral grounding to avoid such a situation but both school and home offer no good role models and no respite from emotional pressure that Mizuho deals with. Her mother, a less than stellar support figure, seems to work as a hostess and needs support herself. Mizuho herself is in a toxic work environment where her boss offers a potential sexual threat. Leading a lie online and seeing both sex and love undermined in real life through other girls her age who are exploited leads her to see artificiality in relationships, the emptiness that can lie at the heart of reality and it shakes her. With nothing to hold her down, or at least make her values and morals stronger, violence and death as legitimate means of making money seems reasonable. Why not? Mizuho has seen people brutalise others in real life and becomes subject to rough treatment. These moments cause her to waver between life and death.
Noriko Yuasa and Takato Nishi’s script deploys somewhat contrived moments of action to spur Mizuho’s tailspin but the visual artifice is on point as we are sucked into a whirlpool of confusing emotions. Hovering camera work which gets close and personal, confined locations and those packed with people, Yuasa’s use of garish colours to upset any equilibrium and to highlight emotional upset and contrast it with emotional deadness of calmer scenes where the fakeness of life stifles Mizuho. There is symbolism, some heavy-handed but some beautiful like two goldfish trapped in tall glasses of water, untethered balloons and the dualism found in people. It all bombards the viewer along with an aural soundscape of urban noises that are heightened to a point where they are suffocating and this clamour stays with us like a noose around the neck until it tightens at the fateful moment that Mizuho makes her choice whether to push on with assisting a suicide and then the release as she experiences a moment of catharsis. Getting there is tough and the ending is enigmatic but Mizuho, through trials and tribulations, gains freedom and adults can only look on as she becomes her own person.