Touching the Skin of Eeriness 不気味なものの肌に触れる (2014) Dir: Ryusuke Hamaguchi

Touching the Skin of Eeriness  Touching the Skin of Eeriness Film Poster

不気味なものの肌に触れる  「Bukimina mono no Hada ni Fureru」 

Release Date: March 01st, 2014

Running Time: 54 mins.

Director: Ryusuke Hamaguchi

Writer: Tomoyuki Takahashi (Screenplay)

Starring: Shota Sometani, Kiyohiko Shibukawa, Natsumi Seto, Jun Murakami, Ayumi Mizukoshi, Hoshi Ishida, Aoba Kawai,

IMDB

It’s all “show, don’t tell” in Ryusuke Hamaguchi’s Touching the Skin of Eeriness, a medium-length film that uses body language and interpretive dance rather than words to speak.

Made before Happy Hour (2015), his big international breakout, Touching the Skin of Eeriness was a project that Hamaguchi originally envisioned as a pilot film designed to get funding for a larger project named FLOOD. Featuring Shota Sometani (Himizu) in a lead role just as he became a big star in Japan with mainstream movies Parasyte, Wood Job!, and Bakuman, it was a departure for the actor who shines in one of Hamaguchi’s most opaque films where the focus is on the intimate physical movements of the actors and the background atmosphere to relay information.

At the outset we have a coming-of-age drama wherein, following the death of his father, a tight-lipped highschooler named Chihiro (Shota Sometani) is taken in by his his half-brother Togo (Kiyohiko Shibukawa) and his girlfriend Satomi (Natsumi Seto). They begin an uneasy cohabitation which is defined by the way characters tell half-truths and also the physical distance that Chihiro enforces. In their first scene together, we witness the teen dodge Togo’s embrace repeatedly on a road heading to his new home after their father’s funeral. It is a scene that would be comic if Sometani didn’t suggest something dark and brooding by giving glimpses of a malignant grin that occasionally flashes on his face as he evades touches.

Touching the Skin of Eeriness Shota Sometani, Kiyohiko Shibukawa, Natsumi Seto

Chihiro’s one true connection comes out in modern dance practice with a classmate names Naoya (Hoshi Ishida). If Chihiro slips through the fingers of those who are family and should be close to him, he allows himself to flow in synch with his friend. Their dances, overseen by Osamu Jareo, a real-life choreographer who shows up here, grow in complexity over the course of the film. While there is no physical contact involved, the deliberate close proximity and the tight movement and the way they respond to each other’s presence suggests connection, control, and intimacy and this feeds into the story as it winds a slow path to a very, very dark twist as Naoya and his girlfriend Azusa (Ayumi Mizukoshi) face breaking up and Chihiro’s influence over Naoya becomes clear. It is at the end that the film becomes something like a supernatural mystery.

Hamaguchi’s style is to focus on intimacy between the actors. The close-ups of the actor’s faces, particularly in conversations that Shibukawa’s character Togo has, offers space for intrigue to build as audiences work through opaque dialogue to zero in on what might be happening. Intentions are more easily felt in the uses of long takes, medium shots and static camerawork to watch how characters respond to each other. The distance between Shibukawa and Sometani and it feels like a gulf as the younger man dodges the grabs of the older, the closeness of Ishida and Someteani feels like an unbreakable bond that builds over the film and when Mizukoshi is added to the mix, an explosiveness and violence can be felt. It is this, on top of terse dialogue, that gives the film’s characters an emotional dimension as we learn the dispositions of the characters from their movements rather than reams of exposition.

Added to this is an atmosphere of creeping dread as Hamaguchi channels a dark and dreary look into the world and has some scenes done with silence. The discordant use of music by Erik Satie acts as an odd counterpoint. There are terse details of the world given by Togo’s character who has a background exploring rivers swollen from floods and the dark secrets they hide. It all feels rather ominous, especially when linked with the evolving nature of Chihiro’s character. Towards the end, the film felt like it was going full on apocalypse with Sometani’s Chihiro being the epicentre. He reminded me of Mamiya, the mesmerist at the heart of Kiyoshi Kurosawa’s Cure, who turned on the spigot of inner hatred of all he met as he brought Tokyo closer to disaster and that’s no faint praise since Cure is one of the best serial killer thrillers out there.

And so what starts as a coming-of-age film takes a very dark turn only to be left on a tantalising cliff-hanger. This is meant to be a trailer for a feature film and, as of yet, it hasn’t been made which means its dark atmosphere can only linger unfinished in our imaginations.

2 thoughts on “Touching the Skin of Eeriness 不気味なものの肌に触れる (2014) Dir: Ryusuke Hamaguchi

  1. I’ve just watched it. Some Hamaguchi characteristics indeed but quite different too in as far as it is way less wordy and leaves a lot of things unsaid and unanswered…I too found there was a Kiyoshi Kurosawa touch -pun intended.

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