Girlfriend, Someone Please
Stop the World
Miho – “Everyone’s lonely”
Kyoko – “Lonely and afraid”
To some degree this summarizes much of the
work of Ryuichi Hiroki over the past few years as he has become a poet
of the disconnected in modern Japan. Isolated, lonely, alienated, Hiroki’s
recent films burn with the internal pain of part of this generation lost
among the babble of technology, consumerism and social consensus. His films
lay bare the fearful insecurities, inability to connect and dark spaces
in the lives of his characters like a sharp intrusive scalpel. Layer by
layer, the characters are revealed – not as bad people – in fact often
the opposite – but simply as unable to deal with the social vagaries of
the modern world. They need so much to reach out and be touched emotionally
by another person – to feel a bit of humanity in their lives but they find
it nearly impossible to do so.
Vibrator (2003) was
Hiroki’s first major incursion into this world with a basic story of two
people having all their inner pain slowly spill out during a long truck
ride. It’s a head deep dive into naked empty emotions. If Hiroki is the
poet of the disconnected, his town crier is actress Shinobu Terashima.
The daughter of legendary actress Junko Fuji, she was better known as a
theatrical actress before Hiroki spotted her and felt she was the only
actress who could play this part. Her performance is startling intense
and one few mainstream actresses would have the courage to take on with
its candid sex scenes and the intimate stripping of her soul. Her flat
placid faces registers every blow her life has dealt her like a satellite
Rei (Terashima) has gone to a late night convenience
store to buy some wine to deaden herself and her thoughts are jumbled fragments
tumbling within – “I’m scared of people I can’t touch and I’m scared of
people who don’t know how to touch”. She spots a man who has come in and
thinks he is “tasty” and when he intentionally brushes by her with a light
knowing feel of her hand she is electrified. She follows him outside and
in a desperate need for contact and relief gets into his truck and has
sex with him. It turns out that Takatoshi (Nao Omori) is a long distance
freight hauler and on the spur of the moment she decides to go with him
on his trip around Japan. In the confined space and safety of the truck
and during the endless miles of road, their defenses slowly break down
and in a sense they are cleansed of their sins. It ends on a tentatively
hopeful note as she tells herself “The voices in my head are gone. I suppose
they’ll be back but for now they are gone”. This film burns like injected
Terashima returns in It’s
Only Talk (2005), another journey into the
urban alienated and disconsolate. This contains a more populated canvass
than did Vibrator and that lessens to some degree that film’s laser intensity,
but it is still a unblinking look at people who don’t fit into the image
of Japan’s trendy and consumerist modern world. Hiroki’s films attempt
to be so honest – it may take some shedding of the skin in getting there
– but eventually the characters face in ungarnished terms who they are
and their human limitations to move on. It’s not often kind or optimistic
but extremely human.
Like her character in Vibrator, Terashima plays
another fragile single female past society’s expiration date. Yoko suffers
from manic depression and lives amongst her array of pills to pull her
out of it and exaggerates the deaths of her parents and a friend (claiming
it to be a 9/11 death) to give her life some dramatic weight and to excuse
her mental imbalance. She has a fairly isolated existence in Tokyo living
on her dead parent’s insurance payouts. Her one human contact appears to
be literally with a “pervert” – a married man who gets together with Yoko
to play out their fantasies such as going to porno theaters or public sex.
One day she runs into an old classmate and takes him back to her apartment
only to discover that he has his own issues – an inability to get an erection.
Finally, it appears that perhaps her life can move forward when her male
cousin ( Etsushi Toyokawa) needs to crash in her apartment and the two
seem to fight through their insecurities to make a hopeful connection.
In the end though this is only an ephemeral touch point and Yuko has to
hold it together again. This is unrelenting in it’s depiction of aimless
lost lives and Terashima gives a killing and painful performance.
In between these two films, Hiroki made L’Amant
(2004), a controversial and somewhat distasteful film that harkens back
to his Pink filmmaking days even if no explicit sex is actually shown.
It approaches emptiness in a different manner when three middle-aged men
contract with a seventeen year old girl to have sex with her for a full
year. They all lay their own fantasies and sorrows on this girl and don’t
even call her by her real name but instead refer to her as Hanako, the
daughter of an absent friend. There is no salvation though found in the
body of a young girl and by the end the men seem to have gotten much smaller
in stature while the girl has managed to supersede them in terms of maturity.
The film never successfully moves beyond its audacious and venal premise
to explore deeper and more intimate issues of identity, gender, sexual
power and alienation that seem inherent in the material.
As part of the “Love Collection” – a series
of low budget films, Hiroki released Girlfriend,
Someone Please Stop the World in 2004 (another
entry in the series is the wonderfully funny “Moon and Cherry”). To some
degree this is Vibrator light as it tackles some of the same issues but
among two young women looking for something deeper in their lives than
one night stands and work. It is a very slow moving film in which not a
lot really occurs other than the bonding of these two women – but it is
ultimately quite satisfying in a quiet slice of life fashion. I continue
to be amazed that Japan seems to be the only film industry that can make
these small wonderful female bonding films that feel so effortless and
poignant – other examples being “Hana and Alice”, “Bounce Ko Gals” and
Kyoko (Kinuo Yamada) sees the world through
her camera lens and clicks away endlessly in a way that puts distance between
her and the life around her. She broke up with a boyfriend seven months
previously and has filled the emotional hole with a series of drunken one
night stands that have left her in a state of self-loathing and dissonance.
She is able to find some photo work for a magazine that publishes nude
female pictures – something Kyoko has been interested in shooting – but
the catch is that the photographer has to scout and convince the women
to do this. After many fruitless attempts, Kyoko comes upon Miho (Aoba
Kawai) who has her own share of self-loathing oozing its way through her
psyche. Her father (Tomorowo Taguchi) deserted her as a child and doesn’t
even recognize her when she bumps into him. She is so full of anger that
she tells Kyoko that perhaps by stripping away her clothes she can strip
away some of her anger and the two of them embark on an emotional journey
of photos and conversations that bring them closer and closer. Through
this catharsis they both find solace and friendship and perhaps more. Rarely,
has a chaste kiss felt so completely needed and perfect as the one in this
It’s Only Talk: 7.5
Girlfriend, Someone Please Stop the World:
As an add on to this review I should make
mention of another recent work from Hiroki so that people don’t assume
that he is an embittered angry man with major issues (which he may be for
all I know). He contributed one of the five short films in an omnibus simply
(2005). All of them are pretty interesting and range from the erotic to
the whimsical to the downright funny. Hiroki’s piece is titled “Drive Till
You See the Sun“ and it is not only the best in the bunch but is in fact
absolutely hilarious. It’s another female bonding film of sorts but under
unusual and amusing circumstances. An over the hill hostess gets in a cab
after her shift is over with exhaustion showing in her every facial line.
The cab driver is a female as well – rather a stern sourpuss but she has
reason as a young female punk is forcing her to pick up passengers to rob.
She needs one million yen before the night is over to pay off her debts
derived from her time spent in a host bar chasing after one man in particular.
The hostess and the cab driver have their debts and problems as well and
start to demand that the robber kill them and put them out of their misery.
It all gets quite crazy as they complain about their lives, high speed
it down the highway in a suicide attempt, all have the same musical hulu
dream in a near death experience and then finish off the night in a collective
pee. It’s terrific.