Torso トルソ Director: Yutaka Yamazaki (2009)

Torso   Torso Film Poster

トルソ Toruso

Release Date: July 10th, 2010

Duration: 104 mins.

Director: Yutaka Yamazaki

Writer: Yutaka Yamazaki, Yuki Sato (Script),

Starring: Makiko Watanabe, Sakura Ando, Sola Aoi, Arata Iura, Renji Ishibashi, Miyako Yamaguchi,


Torso tells a tale of a woman whose life is troubled by men. The film’s hook is understanding how she mediates this trouble through her cohabitation with an inflatable male mannequin torso. The reason why she would choose an inanimate object over a flesh-and-blood person is gradually revealed when her younger half-sister moves into her apartment over the course of a hot Tokyo summer. This disturbance leads to an unearthing of traumas that create a pathology explaining why a woman would avoid men. 

We follow Hiroko Katagiri (Makiko Watanabe), a 34-year-old office lady working for a fashion house. Katagiri is not one for dates, for mixers, for being picked up in bars because she is not one for meeting men. She is quite content with leading solitary life, her only companion being the limbless torso which she treats in some ways like a boyfriend, albeit an undemanding one. Living solo she cooks what she wants, drinks wine whenever she likes, and can relax in freedom. The question of how she ended up like this is brought to the fore with the arrival of her more flighty half-sister Mina (Sakura Ando) who comes seeking shelter after fleeing her abusive boyfriend, Hiroko’s ex.

Like water and oil, the two aren’t that good at mixing as Mina, a budding fashion video director is the younger, prettier, and more popular of the two, with both men and their mother, and she flaunts it. As Mina unsettles Hiroko’s routines the older sister faces up to traumas that have shaped her life such as how she lost her boyfriend to Mina and a dark family past and so, as odd as the hook of living with a torso is, that becomes secondary to understanding Hiroko and her problem with men.

This film is a character study which is used to look at the malign influence of men and patriarchy. Yamazaki begins our process of learning this obliquely by painting contemporary society as one that pressures women into narrow roles of wife and mother with the constant presence of women in motherhood/childcare roles and Hiroko facing a daily chorus of office colleagues talking about mixers. We see her shrink from this and seek to know why. Yamazaki has passages that show her experience sexual harassment, from a rental car salesman (Renji Ishibashi) getting a little too handsy to a former schoolmate greeting Hiroko with a breathtakingly offensive comment on her looks that garners a violent reaction. This, however, doesn’t explain everything.

We come to understand various pressures more acutely through the interaction between sisters. With behaviour that can be characterised as blunt and self-centred, Mina’s dialogue acts as a crowbar to pry open Hiroko’s closed world. The more we see their conflict the more we get involved with Hiroko, the more we can read between the lines and see her dialogue is pregnant with resentments and hurt that the world has saddled her with, hurt that has made her retreat. Midway through the film there is a revelation that is not spoken out loud but hidden in a fraught conversation between Hiroko and her mother where the older woman criticises her daughter for missing her step-father’s funeral only for Hiroko to shoot back, “Everyone becomes a saint when they die. Living as if something had never happened.” Hiroko’s hostility to the recently departed is explosive. The camera holds on her mother’s silence and a pained look which speak volumes.


All of the women bear some scars and perhaps the deepest one belongs to Hiroko. However, even if she were to conform, it wouldn’t spare her from troubles as shown via a sister whose life is unstable because her boyfriend, to whom she is loyal, beats her and they both share a mother who has been abandoned by men at various points in her life.

With such countless and convincingly realistic examples of how men are unreliable and unattractive, you can see how Hiroko came to the conclusion that a mannequin torso will never let you down. 

Taken as a whole, Torso is an issues film but one told with such sensitivity and through a thoroughly convincing portrait of a contemporary woman that it never feels didactic or confrontational, rather it feels like it informs you of the problems with patriarchy and men subtly.

The directorial debut of Yutaka Yamazaki, a veteran cameraman and cinematographer for TV and documentaries, you can see where the film’s style and approach to material comes from considering he had accrued a long list of movie credits working for directors such as Naomi Kawase (Still the Water, Shara), Miwa Nishikawa (The Long Excuse), and, most consistently, Hirokazu Kore-eda (from After Life, to Distance, Nobody KnowsStill WalkingI Wish, and After the Storm). In making Torso, you can see traces of the humanist and sensitive aspects of those key auteurs whose works he lensed through long observational takes and an avoidance of nondiegetic elements. Staying close to the sisters with his camera, we ride their waves of dialogue as we see them take part in family rituals such as summer fireworks and slowly build bridges with each other.

Leading ladies Makiko Watanabe (Love Exposure, Many Faces of Chika) and Sakura Ando (Shoplifters100 Yen Love) bounce off each other as women with polar-opposite personalities and stressed family ties that bind them together and as a viewer you become bound to their relationship. Warmth and repressed frustrations spill from the screen as we break into their intimate world blighted by the malign influence of men. Watanabe especially shines with poignancy and anger as a woman struggling to overcome her setbacks and by the end we can feel like she is ready to face the world again.

The film doesn’t offer any solutions as to how to make society equitable for women but it does at least spotlight the problems they face and it does so through a well-told family drama with its odd little hook of the mannequin.

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