Toy Love

Rating: * * 1/2 (out of 5)
Japanese title: Neko wa Nandemo Shitteiru
Director: Harry Sinclair
Running time: 88 minutes
Language: English
Currently showing
[See Japan Times movie listings]

For once, the Japanese title works better than the original — the New Zealand movie called “Toy Love” is billed here as “Neko wa Nandemo Shitteiru (The Cat Knows Everything).” It has a nice Shibuya ring to it (appropriately enough it is currently at Cine Saison Shibuya) and it matches the topic, which can loosely be described as run-amok hormones. The cat, by the way, refers to the stuffed toy that belongs to the heroine, without which she refuses to have sex. True to the Japanese taste in such matters, the cat fetish enhances the pornographic flavor while neutralizing it with cutesieness.

The sole concern of “Toy Love” is the turn-on. Accordingly (and in spite of the promised titillation factor), the actual sex in “Toy Love” is kind of flat, for both characters and viewer: an anticlimax following the delicious, delirious excitement of tease and pursuit. The characters know it, and to keep the fire burning (so to speak), they lie, steal, break up, get back together, wreck other relationships, fake suicides — all in the name of seduction.

Directed and written by Harry Sinclair, “Toy Love” is clever and stinging and fast, fast, fast — trouble is, it just runs laps on the exact same track. For the first 30 minutes or so, the speed is satisfying. But after a while, the repetition becomes a bit wearing. Ben (Dean O’Gorman) tries to pick up Chlo (Kate Elliott) in a bar, but is interrupted by other suitors. Later, Chlo gives him a lift home and then insists on coming in. This is rather inconvenient for Ben, who’s living with girlfriend Emily (Marissa Stott). But Chlo smoothly introduces herself as “Ben’s colleague,” then seduces him in the bathroom (as Emily makes tea for all of them in the kitchen).

Meanwhile, Emily is having her own affair with a mechanic named Francois (Michael Lawrence) and desperately trying to hide it from the oblivious Ben. The next evening, Ben is back in the bar and this time picks up Nancy (Genevieve McLean), who turns out to be Chlo’s housemate, under orders from Chlo to string him along.

The story seemingly revolves around the sexy, elusive Chlo, who’s never interested in a guy unless he’s unavailable and gets her jollies bedding those with commitments elsewhere. She’s interesting, if bizarre: a girl who insists on having sex in front of her toy cat (“This is the rule!”) and delights in wreaking havoc, as long as it’s the sexual kind.

Unfortunately she gets far less screen time than Ben, who’s basically a big pain in the lower extremities. Ben has the attention span of a gnat on heat and about as much depth as a petri dish — we never see him doing anything apart from chasing after Chlo or apologizing to Emily, usually within seconds of either action. (Chlo goes back and forth between saying yes and telling him to piss off, depending on the degree of reconciliation he has going with Emily.)

To win Chlo over, Ben proposes to Emily and goes shopping with her for a dress, then leaves her in the shop and runs off to find Chlo. His scattiness accelerates with each new development, and after awhile you just want to stick him in another movie, preferably something involving a chain-saw, with him strapped to a conveyor belt. At one point Chlo looks at him with a kind of innocent wonder and says: “I like you. You’re . . . entertaining.” Well at least someone finds him so.

What’s annoying about Ben translates to what’s annoying about the movie: He’s too desperate and always trying too hard, which doesn’t gel with the character of a guy perpetually cheating on his girlfriend. Ditto for Chlo, but at least she seems more complicated and shaded with an undefined sadness (missing in everyone else). However, the cat and the preference for non-single men is never really explained — and Sinclair’s screenplay gives her no other personality trait. She’s so intent on being the sexual tease you begin to wonder whether she has sprung from the pages of a Playboy magazine, or Ben’s not very inventive imagination.

As it is, her most poignant scene shows her in fantasy — Ben looks into a large glass aquarium in his favorite bar, and sees Chlo floating in there like a wicked mermaid. They stare at each other with longing and Chlo, for once, is not clutching the cat. She smiles and blows him a kiss. Ben’s expression changes to agony and he’s off, determined once again to recapture her — whether it’s either out of plain lust or something more remains an enigma.

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