Chris Knipp Writing: Movies, Politics, Art

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PostPosted: Wed Jul 20, 2022 2:17 pm 
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Spider and fly

Intimate Stranger is a slow burn Japanese suspense horror film built around the rather kinky theme of a middle-aged woman who keeps a pretty young man prisoner in her flat. Look at the movie poster and you will see its teasing eroticism. Framed in various shades of desaturated film color using the bleach bypass technique and with human and home appliance sounds in lieu of score, it begins with a promise of elegant oddity, but it drags on a little too long in the middle passage.

At the periphery is COVID (masks abound) and phone scams on old ladies, lured into turning over tidy sums to guys who come to collect for their "grandsons" who are sick or in trouble. Into this world wanders Megumi (the excellent Asuka Kurosawa), a sad lady who works at a baby clothes store, in whose wares she has a special, excessive interest. Megumi is searching for her son Shinpei (Yuu Uemura), missing for a year. Along comes a homeless waif called Yuji (heartthrob Fûju Kamio) who has several possessions of Shinpei's and says they met at an internet café. Megumi pays Yuji several small sums (starting with $50) for information and, finding he seems to be without fixed abode (though he is immaculate), eventually lures Yuji into her small apartment and keeps him locked in there "for his own safety." And he seems to accept being kept. He has a warm bed and knows where his next meal is coming from. Maybe he is wanted by several parties, or maybe it's just that scamming is a rat race in which he isn't a main cog in. Or maybe Megumi is the mother he never had. But when she trims his pretty bob it's not particularly motherly. And when she gets him in her lap with a straight razor in her hand the consummation threatened is a violent one.

Fûju Kamio isn't altogether convincing casting, at first anyway - not seedy enough. But director Nakamura is a woman (she studied at NYU: Film School, by the way), and the camera lingers teasingly over Kamio's face. As Megumi, Kurosawa fills the screen too. She is seedy, but more importantly despite her age exudes an erotic aura; she has a complexity worthy of a French star like Isabelle Huppert or Juliette Binoche, as director Nakamura noted in the Tokyo Q&A. These two actors wind up being wonderfully well used by the director, who above all wanted to give an older woman an exciting central role and has done so. Yuji and Megumi look and look and look at each other, and their gaze is always interesting and mysterious (Kamio was chosen partly for his eyes - good enough to make him alluring wearing a mask).

This teasing two-hander, though it's great, is stretched out a bit, and it's rather late in the game when things finally start to heat up. But this movie does have some surprises for us at the end. When Yuji opens that box he was not supposed to touch, we don't have to see the contents. This is a tale of scamming the scammers, and it's an endless loop.

Intimate Stranger is low octane slow burn psychological horror with some nice moments. There isn't quite enough here for the whole 95 minutes, but Mayu Nakamura has a good eye and works in the tradition. This is only her second feature; her first was The Summer of Stickleback in 2006; in between she has made documentaries. One can see the enthusiasm for tradition in homages to David Lynch, Krzysztof Kieślowski, John Cassavetes and many others. Mayu Nakamura is a director to watch. Her next project is to shoot a film featuring non-binary actors in the US.

Intimate Stranger 親密な他人, 95 mins., debuted at Tokyo 2021. It was screened for this review as part of the 2022 New York Asian Film Festival. North American premiere.

NYAFF: Thursday Jul 21, 2022 at 7:00pm (Walter Reade Theater, Film at Lincoln Center)
Director Mayu Nakamura will attend the screening.

©Chris Knipp. Blog:

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