dir. Takeshi Kushida.
Kai (Hideki Nagai) spends his days alone: between retouching photos for fretful female clients, attending the local all-male bath-house and evening meals for one (shared with his pet preying mantis), his is a solitary existence. But when he encounters injured influencer Kyoko (Itsuki Otaki) on a woodland walk his cloistered life is transformed, whilst her obsession with Instagram likes is ripped asunder by the bloody cut on her chest. Given his Photoshop skill set she entreats him to airbrush her scar tissue away, and so develops a symbiotic relationship built on projecting a version of beauty that risks becoming untethered from reality.
From Ikiru (1952) to Tokyo Story (1953) and Kairo (2001), there’s a rich tradition of loneliness in Japanese cinema, both in the alienation between people and the negative impact of technology on human connection. Kushida’s film trades in both, adding the further layer of internal disconnection from one’s own identity. “I believe,” says one woman to Kai, as she asks for endless modifications to her profile pic, “that myself reflected in the eyes of others is my true self”. This externalisation not only of value, but one’s very definition, is exposed as both desperately sad and swollen with existential angst: if we feel the parameters of our own being in relation to others, what happens when they’re not there? Who are we then?
The naked terror of this is felt deeply by Kyoto. Dropped by her health food sponsors and haunted by the plummeting engagement of online followers, she’s torn between trying to recapture the glory days of past popularity and redefining the terms of her engagement with the world, considering whether to show herself scars and all. It is here where Kushida walks a genre-fluid line between uplifting melodrama and icky body horror, a whiff of Miike’s Audition (1999) in the air as romance, co-dependence and psycho-physiological breakdown collide.
If the Foley mix is a little over-bearing and the themes similarly at times on-the-nose, there is still something prophetic in the warning presented: that the promise of finding value in the eyes of others is a false friend, and perhaps there are deeper realities on offer if we are willing to step away from the screen and rediscover who we are.
WOMAN OF THE PHOTOGRAPHS has its UK Premiere at the Arrow Video FrightFest Digital Edition 2 on 23rd October 2020.