Sunday, November 15, 2009

Raigyo (1997)

Noriko (Moe Sakura) absconds from the hospital where she is being treated for her pancreatitis. Dressed in black and carrying a knife and the photo of a child in her handbag, she drifts through the outskirts of a Japanese industrial town, trying to connect to either her husband who is now living with another woman or the lover she betrayed her husband with or both via phone - as in many things, the film isn't forthcoming with clear explanations for what is going on.

At the same time, Yanai, an office worker who takes a day off from work to sleep around while his wife lies in pregnant in hospital, is desperately trying to find one among the astounding number of women prepared for a quick fuck in his little brown notebook actually willing to indulge the sleazy bastard.

When Noriko has been rejected completely and Yanai doesn't find any woman willing to put up with him, a dating hotline connects the two lost souls. They meet up, and after a short bit of sex, Noriko stabs and strangles him to death in the shower of a cheap motel.

The police suspect her of the murder, but aren't able to prove anything. The only witnesses who have seen Noriko and Yanai together are a mentally handicapped girl and a gas station attendant (Takeshi Ito?). The latter would very well be able to identify her, yet chooses not to, so that he can ask her for an explanation how it feels to kill someone, hoping for closure for the traumatic death of a child in his past, or perhaps something else he isn't able to grasp or articulate.

Raigyo's director Takashi Zeze is known for his especially bleak variation of the pinku, and this austere but strangely beautiful drama should be proof enough.

The film is set in the bleakest part of the Japanese province, an industrial area where nature itself seems contaminated by humanity's presence. Long shots of dead fish and sickly green and yellow places abide, putting the characters into a setting that is nearly empty of humans but without any of the calming influences of nature.

Places like these can only be populated by people unable to connect, to their own emotions, to each other, to the world or even the motives for their own actions. Raigyo does the same thing many other of the art-minded pinku films do for Tokyo, namely making its provincial location look like a place where sex and death seem to be the only possible ways for people to connect to each other or themselves. Yet even these things don't seem to bring any peace of mind to Raigyo's characters.

Zeze treats his characters much like parts of the landscape, letting the viewer gaze calmly at them from the outside, but never inviting her into their heads. The way he never provides any direct information about the characters' inner lives might be infuriating to some; I found that it perfectly mirrored the disconnection between the film characters and the world they inhabit.

At the same time, the actors, especially Moe Sakura (and that's a bizarre name in the context of this film if I ever heard one), very ably project the feeling that there is much more to their characters than there appears to be - quite possibly much more than they themselves are conscious of. We as viewers are never given enough knowledge of their inner life to make a completely coherent picture, just as in real life.

All this might sound like an exceptionally depressing experience, and it certainly isn't the sort of film that makes you want to party, or live much longer, but at the same time Zeze finds a weirdly abstract and appropriately numb core of beauty in the bleakness of his film's locations. It is as if through the act of looking at them, the corruption of nature and the disconnectedness of things don't lose their terror, yet somehow gain a quality you can't help but appreciate.

However, if you appreciate this quality too much, you might possibly end up like one of Zeze's characters.


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