Women are in trouble at the Tokyo International Film Festival

by Kaori Shoji

Special To The Japan Times

Bad things can happen to good women, especially in the movies. For me, the most intriguing films at TIFF this year feature women in trouble. Yes, men may be a lot harder to take down on-screen than women — requiring explosives, monsters and extremely fit assassins — but, in reality, girls are more resilient than guys. They often have more ideas and gumption, and can make do with less. Here are four films showing at TIFF that demonstrate how women reveal their powers when pushed into a corner.

The Inerasable

Rumored to be the scariest movie to grace the archipelago since “Ringu,” this can best be described as the the definitive Japanese apartment nightmare, which is saying a lot. Based on a novel by Fuyumi Ono, “The Inerasable” has a stellar cast, including Yuko Takeuchi and Ai Hashimoto. What starts out as a fairly conventional horror story (things go bump in the night, apartment rentees are troubled by visions of a kimono sash snaking its way across the floor, etc.) takes an unexpected turn in the latter half: The film becomes an indictment of Japan’s race to industrialize in the early 20th century and its mistreatment of workers. As with classic Japanese horror tales, “The Inerasable” focuses on place and memory, reminding us that grudges and tragedy can go right into the soil, leaving it forever tainted. It’s up to the two female protagonists to unearth all the bad history and have a face-off with the spirits.

The Girl’s House

At the TIFF press conference, a comment was made by a foreign reporter about the lack of films by African or Middle Eastern directors. Indeed, “The Girl’s House” is the sole and brilliant exception — a whodunnit from Iran with a distinct Hollywood edge combined with veiled social commentary. A young woman (Rana Azadivar) is found dead on the day of her wedding. Apparently she had been hanging curtains in her new home right before her demise. What really happened? The victim’s friends go up against a wall of silence from her immediate family, especially the father (Hamed Behdad). He’s sticking to traditional Iranian conventions of keeping daughters at home, virginal and pure, until the very last minute before the nuptials. The title reference to Henrik Ibsen’s famed play about repression and identity denial, “The Doll’s House,” says it all.

Nise: The Heart of Madness

In “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest,” authoritarian kill-joy Nurse Ratched ruled over her ward in a mental institution. In “Nise,” the titular Brazilian doctor attempts to reform a similar institution by eliminating shock treatments and bringing in art programs. Unfortunately, her male bosses and colleagues put up a united front to foil her efforts because, well, they’re conservative chauvinist pigs interested only in keeping the status quo before they knock off work and head out for drinks. Nise (Gloria Pires) exposes them for what they are and forges on with her new programs, deploying Jungian methods and going heavy on analysis. Interesting, considering that Jung himself thought women were unreliable.

Monster With a Thousand Heads

Is there such a thing as an ordinary housewife? After seeing this film, the answer will most likely be a resounding no, though the disillusioned stay-at-home wife remains one of the most enduring stereotypes in cinema. In this film, much-tried wife Sonia (Jana Raluy) battles a hospital, Mexican bureaucracy and an insurance company as she tries to procure the medication necessary to ease her husband’s tumor pains. She’s caring for him at home with no outside assistance, her teenage son is less than cooperative and she’s up against Mexico’s flawed, corrupt medical system, which won’t give an inch. But Sonia refuses to budge, too. This is “Erin Brockovitch” without the glamour.

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