Sunday, July 4, 2010

Girlfriend: Someone Please Stop the World (2004)

Girlfriend: Someone Please Stop the World (2004)

It started with Vibrator, then Tokyo Trash Baby, now this!

Ryuichi Hiroki, who started out in the pink film industry to learn his craft, is now making some of my favorite pictures from Japan these days. Each of the Hiroki films I've seen deal with people who aren't very much represented in cinema: the powerless, the ordinary, the outsiders. And this picture, like the others, shows how these people can reconnect with society through positive relationships.

The beautiful Aoba Kawai, playing the character of Miho, is very much this type of person. Beneath a pretty exterior, one can see a persistent sadness. Her glum face is very much like the look Aoi Miyazaki donned in Harmful Insect. Her problem in the film is the lack of a relationship with her father (Tomorowo Taguchi), who left the family when she was an adolescent. Drowning herself in her work, as a hairdresser, or surrounding herself with her three roommates, cannot quell this problem. She tries to deal with it on her own, but to no avail.

Miho one day unwittingly runs into the quirky, short-haired Kyoko (whose reminiscent of Mami Nakamura's character in Tokyo Trash Baby, as both are so peculiar), played by Kinuwo Yamada, who asks to take her picture. Kyoko is a professional photographer and Miho is the only person who accepted to model for her photos, in the nude. Miho accepts as a way to release her anger over her father. The two women, completely unalike, slowly bond over their problems with men, and attempt to resolve them. Kyoko finds artistic inspiration in Miho's complexity, and together, they seem to act as a positive and negative part of a whole.

Hiroki's films show a maturity that is direly missing from a capitalist cinema, geared to entice our basest emotions. His work in pinku eiga may have been necessary as he fully understands the role that sex and relationships play in empowering, damaging, even ostracizing individuals. While he has received critical acclaim, despite the appearance of a few DVD's in Region-1, I don't think his films have yet to find a wide audience, just mostly the cyber-fed cinema geeks like myself and festival insiders. But in a way, I almost prefer for Hiroki to work as he does, away from the glaring lights of international stardom. He certainly has no place in the Academy, making national epics or bolstering the egos of a few star actors. His work is more what art should be: personal expression, not cultural/national justification. His characters are ones that I always tend to connect with, people whose personalities highlight the contradictions of modern society.

Japan, at this stage, has acquired many features similar to America, especially in the urban context, and it is this newer form of social relations that Hiroki sees and understands, despite the fact that he doesn't write his own scripts. It is very fitting that a white character, played by Jason Gray, is portrayed alongside the Japanese without much ideological emphasis through the use of cutting techniques or by giving him some exaggerated character traits. What I'm saying is, because at this stage, since Japanese life is not too different from life in other imperialist nations, we see an even deeper similarity in narratives. These young, highly urban characters come with all the sexual hang-ups, family troubles, economic restraints, vanity, shallowness, and ennui of any figure in a modern film from the U.S., Canada, France, Germany, etc...

Chinese film, especially the recent Lost in Beijing, is taking the same route. The way people live determine the way they think, and the way they write and express themselves. With this new connectedness, reinforced by an ever-entangling global financial system, I tend to wonder just how much one country or another can attest to having traits distinct to its "national cinema".

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