Text © Richard
Gary / Indie Horror Films, 2023
Images from the Internet
Woman of the
Photographs (aka Shashin no onna;
Directed by Takeshi Kushida
Motion Picture Exchange; Pyramid Film; Epic Pictures; Dread; MVD Visual
89 minutes, 2020 / 2023
Body dysmorphia is a recent buzzword in the news thanks to the attacks on the Trans community. The term, however, is much older, and it has been often used to describe women and more recently men who are not pleased by their own bodies due to seeing, for example, the models in magazines, especially though it is idealistic as many of those images have been digitally enhanced. The desire to appear “picture perfect” is an unrealistic goal and can cause other maladies such as bulimia and anorexia.
In this Japanese release (both English and Spanish subtitles are available), Kai (Hideki Nagai) is a subdued, solitary, early-middle-aged photographer who tends to wear all white (I am guessing as a metaphor for a colorless life). When he is not out in nature snapping pics (he has a fixation with insects, and even has a preying mantis as a pet), he runs a photo shop where he uses his talent of digital manipulation to enhance either old or new photographs for his customers. There is almost no dialogue by Kai to emphasize his quiet life. A slow-burn film, indeed.
Along the way, he meets Kyoko (Itsuki Otaki), an internet influencer/model/ballet dancer, who is aging out of the youthfulness that was her bread-n-buttah. She is lively and talkative, and he is aggressively silent and ignoring (yeah, kind of a dick). While their personalities are quite different, there is a common element of the need to control their own “image”: she to her fans and him by putting up walls of exclusion.
There are only two other characters in the film, the first being a funeral director, Saijo (Toshiaki Inomata), an older man who uses the retoucher’s skill for pictures of the deceased during the ceremonies, and has known Kai his whole life being a friend of his father and thereby being both a spokesperson for Kai to Kyoko, as well as a Greek Chorus for the viewer. The other is Hisako (Toki Koinuma), a woman customer obsessed with her looks, and keeps demanding Kai repeatedly retouch her photo into what she considers perfection.
At its core, this is a film about obsession: Kail obsesses about his insects, Kyoko keeps looking at old posts of her photographs (which occasionally includes well-done CGI animation), the female customer with changing her looks, and the old friend with his loneliness (despite claiming he is not).
Although an extremely small cast, I am guessing this was shot just before the COVID outbreak, since there is a scene in a public bath, and no one on the streets is wearing masks; also, the budget for this film is not enough to get the sidewalk shut down for filming.
I am not sure if this can be considered as “horror” or even a “thriller,” but it definitely falls into the “art” category. That being said, it certainly has its body horror moments involving an injury (I will not give it away), which is squeamish inducing (well, for me anyway).
I question the relationship between Kai and Kyoto as beyond temporary need and infatuation with what they can bring to the pairing; even though they become more themselves by giving to each other. Certainly, this is a snapshot (no pun intended) of their time as a couple, as it does not seem that it can sustain the pressure of day-to-day reality, and aging. But in an odd way, this is a very strange and off-beat romance, without Hallmark-ish cringe.
The extras start with interviews (16 min; Japanese with subtitles), including the director, Kushida, and the main actors, Nagai and Otaki, as well as make-up artist Yoshiro Nishimura. It is insightful as they discuss the motivations of the characters and the meaning of some obtuse moments. It is a good post-film watch.
This is followed by a short film, “Voice” (Koe; 10 min, trailer HERE), in which Kushida first worked with Nagai. It is without dialogue, of how a lonely factory worker (Nagai) responds and interacts with a shadow of a woman. It reminds me of the work of ground-breaking Canadian filmmaker Norman McLaren. It is a beautiful piece, and Nagai again acts more with his face and body to convey all the emotions needed. There is also a nice level of animation that is not cartoonish. Last, there are two trailers for this film and a few from Dread.
This is director Kushida’s first feature film, that he also wrote, after years of working in television. It shows enormous talent in form and look. He should have a long and storied career.
IMDB listing HERE
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