A year after Fried Dragon Fish, Shunji Iwai directs and writes this film
that is also for Fuji Television. It is definitely on a TV budget with only
three actors and much of it shot in one apartment - though the budget for
string and rope must have been large. It is visually a treat - stunning compositions,
colors, close-ups and images - a big jump from Fried Dragon Fish - and it
also seems to be territory that Shunji is more comfortable in - offbeat,
elusive, relationship driven. It runs only 47 minutes, moves slowly and yet
at times you can't take your eyes off the action or in this case the in-action.
What he is aiming for is hard to decipher - love and obsession and how they
play out in a relationship perhaps? Are the turtles in their protective shells
symbolic? I don't know. Are the ropes symbolic? Your guess is as good as
mine and you haven't seen it.
Yukio (Etsushi Toyokawa) and Moemi (Tomoko Yamaguchi) live together and have
a fine thing going. She wants a pet - cat or dog - but the apartment won't
allow it so Yukio instead brings home two mid-sized turtles that he persuades
Moemi that they can take for walks. She then gets her braces taken off -
and suddenly he doesn't find her as appealing - though never said one might
assume it is because the braces were a sign of innocence and youth - and
though Moemi is as childlike as my nerves could stand, it just isn't the
same and he buries himself into his work at home.
She begins tying up things with string - small things, then the turtles,
then an apple, then the turtles from the ceiling and it is rather cute and
amusing. Until it isn't anymore. She obsessively begins to tie everything
up in the apartment - he takes her to a psychiatrist who calls it a Malady
of Love - "Obsessive Knot-Binding Syndrome". It gets creepier and creepier
- verging on insanity - when she asks him to tie her up - tighter - tighter
- tighter- you realize they have gone to a place lovers probably should not.
This is another Shunji Iwai film produced by Fuji TV in 1994. I am not sure
if it was ever put on TV but was instead released into theaters in 1996 ,
two years after it was made, and after Shunji's hit film Love Letter hit
theaters in 1995. If that is the case, you can understand why Fuji may not
have shown this on TV. It is a difficult film with some imagery that may
have been disturbing to commercial TV audiences back in 1994. The film will
leave you thinking - what was Shunji (who also wrote it) trying to get at.
It is more technically accomplished and filled out (66 minutes) than Undo
was but it is equally perplexing. It seems rampant with possible religious
symbolism but to what purpose. Is it being critical of religion - Christianity
in this case - or is that just being used to push the film forward to where
Shunji wanted it to go. It takes place in a mental institution and that immediately
sparks thoughts of whether the institution is a symbol of society as we have
seen in other films or is it just a mental institution. Are they angels,
are they lunatics, are they disciples?
Coco (the singer Chara) is placed in an institution by her parents who seem
relieved to be rid of her. The institution looks like an old factory made
into an institution with its gray peeling walls, narrow corridors and cluttered
roof top. Patients just seem to drift around like clouds with no place to
be. Coco becomes friendly with two other patients - Tsumuji (Tadanobu Asano
- he was to marry Chara soon after the film) and Satoru (Koichi Hashizume).
There isn't much doubt left to the viewer that they are right where they
belong - they are certifiable.
Coco has a black feathery jacket that she refuses to give up and one night
she catches a crow outside her window and kills it, plucks its feathers and
sews them into her jacket. Tsumuji either killed or thinks he killed his
teacher and he has fantasies about this teacher coming to visit him and asking
him to unzip his pants, take out his penis - where upon a monstrous worthy
of Miike six-headed penis comes out and begins urinating buckets - all while
Satoru in the background is wildly masturbating about Coco.
One day the three of them walk out of the institution and come across a choir
of young girls singing at a Catholic church and they stop to listen sitting
on a wall, The priest comes out and asks if they are angels and then discusses
God with them - Coco is sure that the world began with her birth and will
end with her death. Tsumuji says he doesn't believe in God and the priest
gives him his bible to read. He does and begins to believe in it literally
- and that the world will end on a specific day. They are thrilled to hear
this and decide to go on a picnic to watch it end.
It is beautifully shot and the walk on top of walls and ledges to get to
the picnic is at times just poetic - to the music of Remedios who had also
provided the music for Fried Dragon Fish, Undo and Love Letter - as the camera
tracks them simply walking, Coco all in black with her broken black umbrella
and the other two in white - which again feels symbolic. There is some wonderful
imagery but the final image is stunning - breathtaking - shattering.