Chris Knipp Writing: Movies, Politics, Art

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PostPosted: Mon Jul 27, 2020 7:16 pm 
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Life in a call girl HQ

This feature about life surrounding a contemporary Tokyo dispatching headquarters for call girls may be contrasted, sharply, with Bertrand Bonello's moody, decadent Apollonide, about a sad but grand and beautiful Paris brothel at the end of the 19th century when they were in grand decline. This environment is cheerful, energetic, but makeshift, giddily energetic yet depressing.

The apartment's just a jumble, and the operation seems haphazard. Who's in charge? Yamada has trouble presenting this as a working business. But then prostitution is a funny kind of business, isn't it? In the first scene (after the one introducing the voice of the piece, Kano (Sairi Ito), who's too outspoken to be a sex worker but stays on as a dispatcher and wrangler) we see that three of the girls get fed up and take off for the day in the middle of the afternoon, leaving Kano in a potential bind. Before that, they were laughing riotously. They like to joke about the absurd behavior of the johns. One young woman, a self-declared "slut" from childhood, is so emotionally damaged she giggles all the time, and obsessively watches TV.

LIfe: Untitled is adapted from a play, the director's, and it shows in the restriction of most of the action to one big room, to the sharply contrasted personality types and the "dramatic" events, though with no overriding plot-line discernible. As in Apollonide, there is a plethora of characters and one spends the movie trying to get them all straight. In a blatantly stagey moment, a girl with glasses who's always scribbling in a notebook gets a call from her mother that her father has died in a hospital, and precipitously goes off on leave.

There is Riyu (Tomoko Nozaki), the top call girl, who says everybody here is a failure in society. Mahiru (Yuri Tsunematsu) is so in demand, an older woman, Shiho (Reiko Kataoka), is substituted. Atsuko (Aimi Satsukawa) is full of anger or hysteria in her every line. There are several men. The bleach-haired Ryota (Syunsuke Tanaka, who overacts horribly), is the self-hating driver. He has had sex when they were both drunk with the pathetic Kyoko (Kokoro Morita), who thinks this means love and has knitted him a gaudy scarf, and he yells and whines at her: a marriage made in heaven. In charge is Yamashita, who, like Ryota, has had sex with the girls, sometimes for pay, sometimes for free, and regrets it. He runs the business for an old man, Denden. They talk of moving this HQ to a new and better location. Hagio is another male employee, with little screen time, a call boy.

One reviewer says Yamada's women all "take their particular kinds of revenge against a misogynistic and oppressive society ruled by male violence." Really? Mostly this world just seems hysterical, chaotic, and full of drama queens - of both sexes. Another, wiser review says "Life: Untitled is an explosive chamber piece of psychological deterioration.." That's true enough. But if only the psychological deterioration were not so obviously play-acting. Josh, on Letterboxd accurately says, "This movie needs to take it down several notches."

Life: Untitled タイトル、拒絶, 97 mins. premiered Oct. 2019 at Tokyo.
It was screened for this review as part of the 2020 all online New York Japan Cuts.
The festival is entirely online this year. Anyone in the US can watch it, paying a small fee for each individual film, from July 17-30, 2020. Go HERE to access the films

©Chris Knipp. Blog:

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