Saturday, August 15, 2020

Life: Untitled / タイトル、拒絶 - 2020 Fantasia Fest Movie Review

The Movie: Life: Untitled / タイトル、拒絶

The Director: Kana Yamada

The Cast: Sairi Itô, Reiko Kataoka, Aimi Satsukawa, Yuri Tsunematsu, Kokoro Morita, Wan Marui, Aika Yukihira, Tomoko Nozaki, Ayumi Ookawara, Dai Ikeda, Hannya, Syunsuke Tanaka, Denden

The Story: This is a film about female escorts who are living life as best they can. Kana Yamada makes her feature directorial debut, adapting her own stage play. Sairi Ito stars as the protagonist, Kanou. - NYFF

The Review:
When I sat down to watch this movie, I actually wasn't quite sure what it was, I actually had an idea that it is a documentary which it certainly is not. Kana Yamada's debut feature is a narrative story that digs into the daily lives of a group of young women who work as escorts in downtown Tokyo. We get to see who they are and what their lives are like while they are waiting to be called for jobs and basically just hanging out in the apartment that is a sort of staging area.

Most movies that tackle this particular subject go for the heavy drama with lots of steamy provocative scenes or maybe they go the comedic route and both usually glamorize the profession in some way while skipping over the realities of what life is really like for the human beings who end up in this world. I was going to say choose to be part of this world but this movie actually does a great job of showing why that's not an appropriate choice of words. In some form or another both the women and men who live this life end up there because they had no other choice or because it is seen as an unavoidable and necessary evil on the path towards success.

From what I understand, this story was adapted by Yamada from her own stage play and it really does have that sort of feel to it while also maintaining a very distinct cinematic quality. I absolutely love how she frames shots that feature several characters at a time interacting with each other with limited and smart use of cuts. Those who have been reading my reviews over the years, you know I'm not a fan of constant back and forth cuts and non stop close ups so I was sold on this movie in a big way once I saw the type of cinematography being used. The key result of filming this way is conversations feel more natural and you really get a sense of space, a sense of emotion, and a better grasp of the performances.

Speaking of the performances, it's hard to single out any one person as the entire cast is just so good in this movie. I guess a couple that really stand out for me are Sairi Itô in the lead role as a girl who has stumbled into this life and didn't like the sex work so she chose to be sort of a coordinator of the operation as well as Reiko Kataoka who plays the older and supposedly wiser member of the crew and Yuri Tsunematsu who is everyone's favorite and also the most hated and envied because of her beauty and incessantly bubbly personality. Another standout is Aika Yukihira who's character seems disinterested in the work and even more so when she receives some tragic news. The understated performance she brings to the character is just as powerful as any of the other characters.  

Over the course of the movie, Yamada takes the characters from a surface level introduction that emphasizes stereotypes and makes the audience think each person is exactly who we expect them to be. Shallow, money hungry, emotionless, or over emotional and just for the sake of being these things. What makes this story so brilliant is how she then unravels each of them in turn breaking them down emotionally and psychologically so we can see why they exist as they do as well as hints of the how they ended up in this world. Mental health plays a huge factor in so many different ways and I plan on watching the movie again just to try and understand each of the characters even more.

The Verdict:
Life: Untitled is a powerful and fantastic debut from Kana Yamada as both a writer and director and the movie is filled with terrific performances across the board. The story is tragic yet told in a way that helps you understand who these people and gives a bit of hope that society can identify people who are on this path and then get them the whatever help they may need.

Life: Untitled is an official selection of the 2020 Fantasia International Film Festival.

To see more reviews, interviews, and festival coverage please go to: TwoOhSix at Fantasia 2020

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