Thursday, June 11, 2015

Nippon Reviews: Watashi no Otoko (My Man)

My Man (Watashi no Otoko): Written by Takashi Ujita and directed by Kazuyoshi Kumakiri.  Starring: Tadanobu Asano, Fumi Nikaido, Tatsuya Fuji, Kengo Kora, Moro Morooka, Aoba Kawai.  Running time: 129 minutes.  Based on a novel of the same name by Kazuki Sakuraba. 

Rating: 2.5/4

***a minor spoiler warning for the following review is in place.  I will try to avoid specific plot details, but an accurate account of my thoughts requires delving into some major story turns***

            My Man is the most deliberately unsettling moviegoing experience I’ve had since Finsterworld enlightened me on the many baking applications of human skin.  It starts off darkly enough, with our two main characters finding each other in the devastating wake of a tsunami.  Soon, however, it slowly sinks itself into a quicksand of moral depravity and mental collapse that only thickens around the viewer as the running time stretches on. 

            Said main characters are a young man, Jungo (played by Tadanobu Asano) and a small girl, Hana (Fumi Nikaiko), each seeking to rebuild their personal lives in the wake of losing their families in the aforementioned tsunami (at least I assumed it was a tsunami- the film keeps this plot point rather vague).  He picks her up, claims her as his daughter despite the warnings of his close friend and associate Oshio, and they drive off into an endlessly dark night, a clever bit of cinematic foreshadowing.  As the shock of the day’s horrible events wear off and reality sets in, the girl starts to cry and shake, and Jungo takes her hand and promises that, no matter what, he is hers, forever. 

            Following this prophetic declaration, we jump ahead roughly 10 years.  Jungo and Hana live in a small coastal town known for the seasonal ice drifts that pass by every year.  Jungo is dating  a relative of Oshio’s, and it seems like they are looking to get married, until her worried suspicions about exactly what sort of relationship Jungo and Hana have are all but directly confirmed, in a vaguely threatening manner, by Hana herself, and her resulting confusion and heartbreak leads her to skip town for Tokyo. 

            At first, this seems to indicate that our story is about Hana’s attempts to assert complete dominance over Jungo’s life (because he is, after all “hers forever”), but soon after this we see that the twisted psychological and (see spoiler warning above) sexual attractions at play here go both ways.  Since their growing emotional and physical obsession with each other is something that, obviously, most people would find morally repugnant, this leads to each of them taking increasingly violent measures to ensure no one knows or finds out about them, eventually causing them to leave town for Tokyo as well, and then even there having to move around constantly to avoid detection. 

            This is one of those movies that brushes right up against my own personal moral code, so it’s more difficult than usual to separate my reactions to the film as a film from those to the idea of the relationship the characters have to each other.  Both the movie and the characters themselves acknowledge that most people see them as being deeply sexually perverted, but they don’t care about that, only about each other.  Is there perhaps a goodness in that regardless?  Can that excuse the brutal ways in which they defend each other from society’s accusations?  When they finally begin consummating their relationship, the world around then literally oozes blood, as if they are embracing all the destruction that is about to come. 

            The movie doesn’t answer any of the questions it raises for us, and it is at its most affecting when it simply sits itself down and lets the uncanniness of what we are seeing surround us.  It affected me in a negative manner, but then again I think that partially the point.  I almost wish I could judge the movie solely on the merits of how well it utilizes music, setting, and the camera to create its own unique Uncanny Valley effect, but there is a plot here as well, and it starts to break up in focus towards the third act.  While I get keeping the focus on their relationship, there are some jumps that only distract from that- somehow, Hana has a normal job at a prestigious firm some years later, and apparently also starts dating other boys, although a brilliant final scene suggests that, for her, there will always only be one person she can truly claim.  But how things came to this final moment is left unexplained, which requires a particularly frustrating suspension of disbelief.  We have seen both of these people commit terrible crimes- was absolutely NO ONE in the police following up on any of this?  A key piece of evidence comes into play as a plot point long after it was relevant, and based on what we know, it is something that should have been discovered immediately, yet somehow wasn’t. 

            While I can understand that minutiae is not what the film wants to focus on, ignoring such gaping holes only detracts from what is otherwise a powerfully-made film, one that will leave an impression regardless of whether or not you love or hate it.  I can’t recommend it to everyone, knowing that many will be turned off automatically once things turn, shall we say, kinky.  But there is more than enough strength in its acting and some small, yet inspired, bits of directing and camerawork that made me glad I stayed to the end. 

-Noah Franc 

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