Still quiet times I know, but I promise you all I am still slowly working on producing more content. Plus, I should have a little announcement where you will be able to digest even more of my thoughts on Asian Cinema in the next few days. Fear not though, ThingsFallApart is still my main residence online. And just to show you, here is the latest little review, of a film which utterly blew my socks off!
“Kotoko” is the story of our eponymous heroine (Cocco), single mother with some issues. The poor girl is afflicted with some kind of bipolar disorder, which is evidenced to the viewers by what she calls “Double Vision”. The film shows us this by showing pretty much any character she encounters appears to her as two people. One of these is benign, the other has violent intentions to either herself of her baby son, and she seems to react to them in a suitably violent manner. How much of this is actually happening is one for differing interpretations. The point is, she struggles to look after herself, and the world at large causes her great pain and discomfort, leading to further descent into self harming. The only time she is at peace is when she is able to sing. After one particularly difficult event , Social Services take her child away, and place him with her Sister, in the family countryside house. Kotoko is allowed to visit, but this does not ease her problems. A chance encounter with a self confessed Stalker/Author Tanaka (played by the film’s Director Shin’ya Tsukamoto), who is entranced by her singing on the bus, opens up a new avenue to her. Tanaka offers himself to her fully, basically allowing her to beat the living crap out of him rather than hurt herself. Extreme as this maybe, it seems to work, and for a time, although Tanaka might physically be suffering extraordinarily, Kotoko finds balance and peace. This leads to her getting her child back – but this news changes the whole dynamic, and the loss of Tanaka leads her to a more extreme breakdown. Although, by the end of the film, everything we have seen may well have to be re-examined in a completely different light.
To be perfectly honest, Director Tsukamoto is a film maker that can often leave me quite cold. This is somewhat ironic, as his “Tetsuo: The Iron Man” was actually one of the films that first sent me down this route of exploring Asian Cinema. Whilst I find his movies interesting in both terms of ideas and execution, I rarely find myself totally emotionally connected with them, maybe because the ideas are either just too “out there” or maybe just too primal. Yet whilst this film is utterly emotionally visceral, my feelings are towards it are the opposite than usual. I was totally drawn into Kotoko’s world, I cared about her, I suffered with her. It is shot in his trademark almost documentary style, which of course imbues closeness with the subject, but then at times it explodes in a cacophony of noise and disturbing imagery, which brings home her mental state. And then he balances it with moments of gentleness and serenity (such as her singing, or her visits to her family) which just make you adore the poor girl. And when things just get too difficult, he is able to introduce the odd humorous moment of slapstick to suddenly give us the chance to relax, and then in her final breakdown manage to bring a moment of colour and beauty.
The film just would not work with its central star though. Cocco, a Japanese Folk/Pop Singer, is amazing in this. It helps though that she co-wrote the story, bringing to it her own struggles with mental health and self harm. This isn’t someone doing a good acting job, this is an example of someone exposing their inner self onto the screen. It is pretty raw at times, but rarely have I felt this complete emotional connection to a Japanese film.
Whilst ostensibly a dark personal drama, it can also be considered a dark horror film, with some images, both suggested and realised, being utterly disturbing and repulsive and shocking. It is refreshing to see this done without the use of some movie monster, other than the terror of what can go wrong with the human mind. This certainly isn’t a film for those after a popcorn thrill, or probably even a group viewing, but it is edgy, uncompromising, intense and thoughtful work.
As the film draws to a conclusion, it becomes clear that much of what we have seen, quite possibly either simply did not happen, or has been the fabrication of a broken (and possibly medicated) mind. So often I get annoyed at this kind of movie, feeling cheated about what I have been watching for the previous hour or so. Not here. It all makes perfect sense, and even aids in the inevitable rewatch, to pick up clues and hints about what we have actually been experiencing. On the other hand, I have read critiques of the film that actually view the film in a totally different way, suggesting that even more of the film is actually fantasy than I do, meaning the somewhat bittersweet ending on which I base the potential reality of the rest of the film is in fact just another layer of fantasy itself. I am happy with my reading of the film (ever the optimist, even in the depths of a personal apocalypse), but the fact that a film so technically simple, with such a slim storyline, that isn’t actually deliberately obtuse in order to be ‘clever’, can still evoke such a diverse range of understanding is to be applauded.
“Kotoko” is an amazing bit of cinema, with one of the finest performances I have seen in a long while. It comes Highly Recommended.