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.
We are at a posh holiday resort on the Izu Peninsula with unhappily married couple Kenji (Hidetoshi Nishijima), an author, and Aya (Sayuri Oyamada), a book editor.
They are spending a week at the hotel over the summer. It is a bit of work and play, as she disappears during the day to coach an author while Kenji is left to his own devices and flip-flops between procrastination and wading through writer’s block. Although picture perfect together, marital strain is apparent as they snipe at each other over him skimping on sex and whether he should write or start life over as a salaryman. Things go really off the rails when they encounter a strange couple amongst the other guests.
Following on from releasing info on the outline of this year’s Osaka Asian Film Festival 2022 and confirming that there will be in-person screenings and online screenings, many of which will be available to international audiences, the organisers have detailed the Opening and Closing films that will be screened in cinemas in Osaka. Details below!
The organisers of the Osaka Asian Film Festival have released the outline of their 2022 edition with confirmation that there will be in-person screenings and, for the second year running, online screenings. Many of these online screenings will be available to international audiences. Details below!
Following on 11 years from their award-winning documentary A Dedicated Life (1994), husband-and-wife filmmaking team Kazuo Hara and Sachiko Kobayashi made The Many Faces of Chika, their first and only fiction feature. Although drawing from history, the mysterious nature of the central character makes it into an allegorical film about the male gaze, the subjection of women, and the destructive nature of passion, interlinking these ideas with the destruction of leftist movements. It has a dreamy air to it that stands in contrast to the usual dedication to realism that Hara and Kobayashi have consistently shown in their work and it makes the experience absorbing in its own way.
For this project Hara assumed directorial duties while Kobayashi penned the script as well as her acting as producer. This is in line with her first forays into cinema as she attended writing classes taught by politically active New Wave directors such as Kaneto Shindo and Nagisa Oshima in the late 60s and early 70s. Kobayashi’s screenplay for The Many Faces of Chika uses the cultural and political upheaval of that very time period as the background for a drama that has an experimental conceit: four actresses play the part of the eponymous Chika to portray the different ways she is perceived through the eyes of different men.
Not for the faint of heart, GFP Bunny is the third film directed by media activist Yutaka Tsuchiya. Following on from his debut The New God (1999) and sophomore feature Peep “TV” Show (2003), GFP Bunny is a continuation of his exploration of alienated youth using media to shape their personalities. It finds its troubling story in a real-life criminal case from 2005 where a 16-year-old girl poisoned her mother with thallium and documented the act online.
Crowned winner of the Best Picture Award in the Japanese Eyes section of the 2012 Tokyo International Film Festival, GFP Bunny is challenging viewing in both story and style. It opens confrontationally with the stomach-churning sight of a frog being dissected before deluging audiences with scientific research, scenes of bullying and near-murder and a girl’s search for identity but, instead of a straight retelling of the case via a lurid drama or factual documentary, director Yutaka Tsuchiya opts for a metafiction that is delivered through a docu-drama format which he uses to address ideas of “Surveillance in a Marketing-orientated Society”, “Characterisation of Identity” and “Biotechnology” (Source).
Film adaptations of stories by the writer Yasushi Sato have slowly been made over the last decade withSketches of Kaitan City (2010) by director Kazuyoshi Kumakiri, Mipo Oh’s The Light Shines Only There (2014) and Nobuhiro Yamashita’s Over the Fence (2016) joined by Sho Miyake’s And Your Bird Can Sing which premiered at the 2018 Tokyo International Film Festival. All are set in the author’s native city of Hakodate in the north of Japan and all centre on the lives of working-class people, showing them with subtle shades of sadness in slow moving dramas struck through with moments of beauty for some uplift. And Your Bird Can Sing is the least dramatic of the bunch but no less engaging.
The film takes place over one summer in Hakodate and follows an unnamed protagonist (Tasuku Emoto), simply referred to as “Me” in the credits. He is a freeter who works at a bookstore while sharing an apartment with his unemployed friend, Shizuo (Shota Sometani). They pass their time together drinking from dusk until dawn and shambling home in a fit of giggles after some mild caper. “Me” will frequently roll into work with a hangover while Shizuo will potter around during the day in anticipation of the night to come which promises a repeat of their antics. They are young, aimless and content. However, their lethargic days are shaken when “Me” begins dating his co-worker Sachiko (Shizuka Ishibashi). Independent and quietly rebellious, she is attracted to “Me” and his laid back nature. Curiosity turns into companionship as she gets roped into his hang-about life and meets Shizuo.
For “Me” and Sachiko the future appears so far off as to be inconsequential especially with more immediate pleasures at hand which consist long nights spent bopping to beats in clubs or slipping in and out of a lover’s embrace but change will happen because there is an ever so gentle forward motion to the story driven by Shizuo’s growing attraction to Sachiko. Sho Miyake’s camerawork loves Shizuka Ishibashi’s spirited performance as she slinks and grooves through scenes and she imbues a liveliness to her character which naturally holds the attention of the audience as well as other characters, Shizuo especially as his snatched glances and side-eyed stares segue into touchy-feely interactions during their many trips to karaoke bars and clubs.
“Me” seems to just accept the situation with indifference but the subtle shifting of emotions presages bigger changes as the three friends start to slowly slip away from each other at a time when employment and family pressures mount and provide unwelcome pricks of reality that let the air out of the snug and comfortable world they created. Responsibilities avoided come crashing down and it seems like the fun is over as the story forces them to reassess their situation and recognise a general malaise they feel from having held life in stasis for some time.
This is a soft drama rather than something hardscrabble, something that explores the harmony of companionship where the pace of the film is affected by the lifestyle of the three as they while away their time but the emotional fluctuations are there and they lurk under the surface of scenes, usually in subtle movements of the actors. When the pressure mounts, hints of nastiness emerge, Shota Sometani and Tasuku Emoto able to turn their character on a dime and launch into aggressiveness and then reveal a more sympathetic worry to add welcome layers of emotions to characters that initially just seem aimless.
Sho Miyake chooses to use this slow pace to delicately tease out the changes felt between these people in moments of low drama so the film ends up feeling like a tender and caring examination of characters preparing to face complicated feelings rather than something harsher as experienced in other adaptations of Yasushi Sato’s work. Miyake probably captures the freeter lifestyle accurately as he respects and translates the pleasures of their lives, shooting everything with a pleasant light, often during dusk and dawn, giving the image a quality that softens everything and renders their activities and the city of Hakodate more beautiful than it could possibly be in reality. Reality can be harsh but there is some hope at the end of this film as they have to leave behind their freeter lifestyles. As much as they like hanging out, at some point the party has to end but who will leave with the girl…?
My review for this film was originally published on July 21st at VCinema
Eureka Entertainment will release Naomi Kawase’s award-winning film, The Mourning Forest in a dual format blu-ray and DVD set on August 21st (you can order it on Amazon). It is released as part of The Masters of Cinema Series and Naomi Kawase has certainly earned that title since she is a stalwart of the festival circuit and has won many awards. Here are the details on the film:
“In anticipation of the upcoming 10th edition of JAPAN CUTS: Festival of New Japanese Film (July 14-24, 2016) we screen Sion Sono’s notorious masterpiece about love, family, religion and upskirt photography.”
That sentence leads me to assume that Sion Sono’s two latest films, Whispering Star and Love and Peace will get screened at Japan Cuts this year. The two have been on the festival circuit and are at this year’s Nippon Connection.
Au Revoir l’ete will be getting a UK release courtesy of the film company day for night. Even though the film was screened at last year’s Edinburgh International Film Festival and I was aware that it was picked up for UK distribution but lost track of it after that. Thankfully a kind reader named Rachel Amandus alerted me to a future screening and that got me doing some rummaging around the internet for information to make this post!