Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Film Review: Kakera – A Piece of Our Life

Directed by Momoko Andô

Opens April 2 at the ICA in London

Kakera tells the story of a relationship between two young women in Tokyo. Well, not exactly a relationship: a kind of complex diagram of tangents, angles, obliques, axes, intersections and vanishing points. It’s like Hal Hartley didn’t lose contact with the real world after Amateur, but moved to Japan to pursue his relationship geometries: Kakera is strongly reminiscent of Trust or The Unbelievable Truth in its washed-out palette and tone, at once deadpan and quirky, often gently nostalgic for things even as they are occurring. Some of the Tokyo street scenes, accompanied by ringing guitar chords, are clearly a reference to Lost in Translation, but the protagonists – Haru and Riko – are both Japanese (and there are some Yasujiro Ozu references to recall the Japanese tradition of quietly observational love stories).

But like the protagonists of Sofia Coppola’s film, and of Hartley’s films, they are fish out of water, moving to their own rhythm that’s just a little different from the rest of the world. It has the quiet, everyday texture and delicacy of new manga as pioneered by Frédéric Boilet, which focus on love, sex and real people rather than superheroes and wide-eyed cuties. Not that Haru and Riko aren’t, in their own way, wide-eyed cuties. Haru is a dreamy-eyed literature student drifting along in a relationship with her toy gun-carving boyfriend, while he dithers over dumping his former girlfriend. After an unsatisfying morning with him (he has holes in his socks! clearly no good will come of this) she stops in a café for a hot chocolate, and a stranger comes over and wipes away her milk moustache.

Talk about meeting cute: Riko says she doesn’t usually do this, and hands Haru a beer mat with her number and an adorable sketch. Attracted to Riko’s attraction, Haru calls her – the first in a series of ringing phones that will be ignored by their owners and initially answered by other people, just one of the tangents by which communication proceeds. Riko takes the afternoon off and they wander around the zoo then head back to meet her parents. Haru wonders nervously about where their friendship is heading, and Riko tells her that she thinks gender is as arbitrary as whether the zoo was open or not.
It’s a film that likes to make much of its metaphors: Riko works as a prosthetics modeller, while Haru suffered from paralysis from the waist down as a young teenager. Her boyfriend has forceful sex with her limp, numb body while a WWII movie plays in the background. Sometimes this literalisation can be dazzlingly beautiful: as when Haru fantasises diving into a starlit pool as she dissociates from the rape. Other times, as when Riko, frustrated by Haru’s uncertainty, starts a relationship with a striking dom for whom she’s modelled a prosthesis, it seems a little too forcibly and neatly quirky. Riko also swims dangerously close to the clichéd crazy lesbian: possessive, irrational, manipulative yet self-sacrificing, wearing a hideous pink furry cardigan.

But the film pulls back at the end, through a series of missed calls, to something more opaque and melancholically hopeful than the expected psycho denouement. And then there’s a prolonged scream over the final credits, followed by more of those plangent guitar chords. If you’ve missed Hal Hartley, or longed for a lesbian Lost in Translation, or wished that yuri manga was a little more true to life, or you’re just in the mood for girl-meets-girl with prosthetic boob jokes, then Kakera is a dreamy-eyed way to spend 90 minutes.

Sophie Mayer is a writer, editor and educator. Find out more at



At 10:34 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

As a gay woman who's lived in Japan for 4 years, I was really excited to hear about this film but incredibly disappointed when I saw it. It's difficult to choose what annoyed me the most... dodgy acting - check, mawkish script - check, all men portrayed as neanderthal morons - check, older lesbians portrayed as creepy, sad and lonely - check...

And why is Haru permanently zombified? We never see any glimpses behind this, very frustratingly.

I really cannot understand why it seems to have received such high praise in the media. Isn't there someone else out there who hated it too? Anyone??


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