Wednesday, December 5, 2012
Kotoko directed by Shin'ya Tsukamoto won the best film Orizzonti Prize at the Venice Film Festival in 2011, the film exhibits some of Tsukamoto's trademark techniques, shaking camera work, the soundtrack, kaleidoscopic, assists in breaking down the barriers between the viewer and the experiences of the central character Kotoko, - a mesmerising performance given by singer/actress Cocco. It could be said that the two concerns the film focuses upon are the pressures of single motherhood and also that of violence within society, and the way individuals react and respond in being exposed to it, these internalised fears of Kotoko manifest themselves into more of a destructive physical realm, the threat of violence intrudes into Kotoko's imagination through her fraught state of mind. The film opens with Kotoko stating that she sees double, we're momentarily tempted into thinking that the movie may take the route of depicting the good and the bad in the characters that Kotoko sees, but it becomes apparent that this double vision that she suffers from could stem from the anxiety and fatigue of being a single mother. In a series of powerful hallucinogenic scenes Kotoko envisions her young son, Daijiro, involved in accidents, and telling herself over and over again how dangerous it would be if she were to loosen her hold on him, and as she is standing on top of her apartment building she finds herself actually letting go, screaming for someone to call an ambulance as she runs down the stairway but she finds that Daijiro is actually safe in his room. The power that Tsukamoto brings in conveying Kotoko's imagined mental world is palpable, and as we begin to assimilate ourselves into her world, the T.V in her apartment repeatedly reports news of various violent crimes, violence in the film appears to be of a pandemic nature, insinuating anxiety, apprehension and uncertainty.
Daijiro is taken to Kotoko's sister's to be looked after, Kotoko sinks lower, she falls into self harming, cutting herself, into the mirror we see her pointing at her reflection with bloodied arms repeating, Ikiru, Ikiru, watching the disturbing scene you can't help but feel that Japanese cinema has turned, or is turning full circle. Midway through the film Tsukamoto appears himself playing Tananka, a prize winning novelist who has become fascinated with Kotoko after seeing her singing on the bus, he begrudgingly admits to stalking her, we learn that when she sings her double vision recedes and she sees the world as one. At first she tries to fend his attentions away by stabbing him in the hand with a fork, something that she does to another man who tries it on with her earlier in the film, but Tanaka is determined to help her, or in the least we think to attempt to understand her, he prevents her from cutting herself at first by letting her take out her inner anguish on him, but she falls back into inflicting cuts on herself, a particularly moving scene is one in which Tanaka tries to calm her. He moves in with her, but when a letter eventually comes saying that she has rehabilitated and that Daijiro can return Tanaka disappears, was he after all just a figment of her imagination?.
The movie is on the whole a gruelling one to watch, and it is to a degree reliant on its shock value to deliver its punch, although the observations it's making about violence and it's malignant influence on society give the impression that it could have quite easily have been produced at any point over the last twenty to thirty years and for all it's unflinching depictions of violent scenes there are at times some very moving scenes to witness within the film, one in particular is when Kotoko sings for Tanaka, when she comes to the end of her song we get the impression that Kotoko has finally arrived at a balanced place, but she still lacks the power to step out of herself, the sense of wretchedness at the end of this scene is something to experience, near the film's end Kotoko watches as Daijiro walks away from visiting her at the hospital, throughout the film she appears to be immobilized through the love she has for her son and it is forcibly felt in this scene. Although the film is shocking, this value accentuates the themes it forces us to consider.
Kotoko at King Records
Kotoko at Third Window Films