Monday, September 7, 2015

The Brutal Hopelessness of Love (2007)

When done right, the “film within a film” device can lead to a number of innovative possibilities. Not simply as a way of telling multiple stories, but it also gives performers the chance to really stretch their acting muscles by tackling more than one personality. Its no surprise that some of the finest examples of film within a film have came from the master transgressors. With Trans-Europ-Express (1967), Alain Robbe-Grillet presented a compelling and kinky story as it was being made up on the spot while the director, writer and producer travel on the titular railway. Andrzej Zulawski’s La femme publique (1984) explored the chaos that can ensue on a film set, the lead actress becoming “possessed”, so to speak, by the director, and the confusion between actress and character. This idea was taken to its most (il)logical extreme by David Lynch in Inland Empire (2006) where lead actress Laura Dern’s world becomes a surreal nightmare after having the personality of the character she’s playing become dominant. Fresh off his groundbreaking adaptation of Flower and Snake (2004) and its 2005 sequel, Takashi Ishii, a master transgressor if there ever was one, tried his hand at the film within a film game with The Brutal Hopelessness of Love, a staggeringly brilliant psychological puzzle film that not only stands as one of Ishii’s greatest films, but one of the best films from the past decade.      

Nami Tsuchiya (Mai Kitajima), a famous actress is being interviewed by journalist Katsuragi (Naoto Takenaka) on the set of her new film. In the film, Nami plays an actress named Kyoko who’s husband is having an affair with a younger actress. The films storyline mirrors Nami’s real life marriage as her husband has been having a well publicized affair with another actress and it just so happens that Nami’s actual husband is playing her fictional husband in the film and his real mistress is playing the mistress role. The more Nami goes into detail about the film, the more names and events become muddled as the lines between reality and film gradually become more obscured.  

Although it shares similarities with the previously mentioned films, by no means is The Brutal Hopelessness of Love (Hito ga hito o ai suru koto no dôshiyô mo nasa, 人が人を愛することのどうしようもなさ) a rehash. This is quintessential Ishii, a bizarre, erotic, fetishistic, at times blackly humorous, ultimately tragic character study of Ishii’s most fascinating variation on the Nami character yet. One of the most clever uses of film within a film, by having the film revolve around an interview it allows Ishii to constantly return to Nami recounting the details of her new film, yet the more the film moves forward it also raises the question of who exactly is Nami speaking for? Herself, the fictional Kyoko or perhaps the character Kyoko is playing? Never becoming too convoluted, the way Ishii ties it all together in the end is again, clever but the emotional impact hits harder here than in any of Ishii’s previous films thanks to the presence and performance of Mai Kitajima. While not as psychically demanding a role as Aya Sugimoto’s in the Flower and Snake films, Kitajimi nonetheless hurls herself in the role(s) with abandon, really going the extra mile. Instantly likable and unbelievably beautiful, Kitajima exudes Nami’s eroticism but also the air of sadness that surrounds her, making the films final reveal all the more potent. As is expected the film is also visually astounding featuring some of Ishii’s most extravagant neon lighting to date giving the film a feeling of surreality which perfectly compliments the films multiple personality narrative.

In February of 2014 there was somewhat of an instance of life imitating art in terms of personal marital issues becoming public when in an attention seeking attempt, Mai Kitajima’s ex-husband, actor and former J-Pop idol Mikio Osawa held a press conference claiming that a DNA test proved that he wasn’t the biological father of the former couples son. The insinuation obviously being that Kitajima had an affair during their engagement. Needless to say the tabloids ran with it and Kitajima’s name was dragged through the mud pretty badly. The couple officially divorced in 2005, two years before this film was made and it wouldn’t be the least bit surprising if taking on a role like this was cathartic in a way for Kitajima. It certainly feels that way watching her performance. This film also marked Naoto Takenaka’s eighth appearance in an Ishii film out of a total of eleven so far. Takenaka has been with Ishii from the beginning staring in Ishii’s debut Angel Guts: Red Vertigo (1988) and has been a go-to actor for Ishii ever sense with some of his most memorable Ishii roles being in A Night In Nude (1993), Gonin (1995) and Freeze Me (2000). Phenomenal actor, but this film is all Kitajima. Its her go for broke performance that carries the film and combined with Ishii’s masterful visuals make The Brutal Hopelessness of Love a certifiable masterpiece.

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