GORE IN THE STORE
WOMAN OF THE PHOTOGRAPHS ****
Directed by Takeshi Kushida.
Starring Hideki Nagai, Itsuki Otaki, Toshiaki Inomata.
Drama, Japan, 89 minutes.
Reviewed as part of Arrow Video FrightFest Digital Edition 2
Takeshi Kushida’s directorial debut is a quiet and haunting lament for the digital age. This tale of the strange relationship between an aged photographer and young model/social influencer draws the viewer in with its strong characterisation and look at the effects of social media has on its users.
Kai is a portrait photographer who is also an expert in digital manipulation. Wielding his computer mouse like a samurai wields a blade he digitally carves away the wrinkles, sags and spots from the faces of his subjects at their request and also tightens, firms up and enlarges whatever they feel will line up further with their own self-image, or one that will appeal more to potential suitors who come across their pictures online. Whilst indulging his real passion for insect photography Kai comes across Kyoko, an attractive young woman who has just fallen out of a tree whilst trying to take an elaborate selfie. Scarred across her chest as a result of this she enlists Kai into being her photographer and to erase her scars so as not to alienate her thousands of online followers.
As a result of this creative partnership a strange bond grows between them, making them come to terms with themselves in ways never considered before. Kai, a lifelong loner soon begins to obsess over Kyoko whilst she begins to obsess over her own scars both physically and mentally, flirting with the fact that they may be the making of her, giving herself a unique edge to peddle online.
This is a very 21st century film. In his filmed introduction for the FrightFest screening, Kushida stated that “Photographs were taken for our memories” before going on to state that they are now primarily taken to be displayed online for instant gratification. The age of digital touch ups and instant fixes is one that is reminiscent of David Cronenberg’s more recent works that look at society becoming obsessed and consumed by technology, letting it warp our own reality. There is also a hint of the Canadian directors earlier works in the imagery of scars and how they are used as transgressive objects of desire and fetishization, leading their wearers to undergo a kind of metamorphosis within themselves.
As much as it is about a visual medium the sound design is just as noticeable here. The constant chirping of insects is almost constant as Kai and Kyoko wander the quiet city streets and countryside in their off-kilter courtship. A number of dinner scenes highlight every gulp, chew and swallow mirrored in the eating and mating habits of Kai’s pet praying mantis.
It is an engrossing film that draws the viewer in with its quiet tale of obsession and the generational gap. Kushida, despite his young age, seems like an old soul, especially with the not so subtle criticism of social media and its self-obsessed fleeting nature. It always seems poised on the verge of spilling over into something more tumultuous and feverish but like Kai himself, manages to keep up a pretence of self-control. As technology and the line between online and real life evolves it will be interesting to see if Kushida will also chronicle such developments in his own personal and absorbing fashion.