The #MeToo movement is finally penetrating the sexist Japanese film business if “Kamata Prelude,” a four-part omnibus produced by Urara Matsubayashi, is any indication. The closing film of this year’s Osaka Asian Film Festival, it stars Matsubayashi as a young actress struggling to gain a foothold in the industry while navigating its darker, stranger and more abusive corners.
The film, however, is more than an object lesson in female empowerment. Its lead character, Machiko (Matsubayashi), is a mix of jealousy and resilience, falsity and righteous anger. That is, flawed but sympathetic.
Also, Matsubayashi gave her four directors stylistic and thematic freedom. The result is something of a patchwork, running the gamut from magical realism to absurdist comedy, but it held my attention from beginning to end.
|Rating||out of 5|
|Run Time||117 min.|
When we first meet Machiko, in Ryutaro Nakagawa’s segment, she is auditioning for the role of a nurse in a skimpy costume. “I love your eyes,” the director says before inviting her to a meal. Her pointed response: “Why did you have me wear this cosplay outfit?” This, we see, is a woman not afraid to speak her mind, despite desperately wanting the role.
Meanwhile, her younger brother Taizo (Ren Sudo) has taken up with a real-life nurse, Setsuko (Kotone Furukawa), who comes across as a wide-eyed innocent, a pose that irritates Machiko. Then Setsuko asks Machiko out for a day and the two women unexpectedly bond as they make the rounds at an amusement park.
Nakagawa intersperses this simple story with candid interviews that reveal the two women’s inner desires and dreams, while hinting, in their dream-like walk through the city, that Setsuko is not what she seems.
In the second segment, by Mayu Akiyama, Machiko reunites with four college friends. One classmate, Mari, announces her engagement to a co-worker. But when she says she is transferring out of her department while her fiance stays, the straight-taking Hana (Sairi Ito) asks why his career has to take precedence over hers.
Then the five friends go to a public bath in Kamata, a district in Tokyo’s Ota Ward, and discover the fiance with another woman. “I love both women, but I’ll marry Mari,” the fiance tells Hana as jaws drop — and secrets begin to spill out.
On the melodramatic side, this segment nonetheless highlights the real, if dated, dilemma of single women who want careers (and, like Machiko, boast about them), but feel the pull of a traditional marriage, subordinate gender role included.
In Yuka Yasukawa’s segment, Machiko finds herself in an audition for a film about sexual harassment by a male director. Machiko and the testy Kurokawa (Kumi Takiuchi) act out a scene between an actress (Machiko) and a libidinous male producer (Kurokawa). The two women begin to feel uncomfortable with the director’s increasingly explicit demands, until Kurokawa explodes.
The taut direction and spot-on performances, with Takiuchi’s eloquent meltdown a highlight, make this segment the strongest.
The funniest and most charming, though, is the last, by Hirobumi Watanabe. Filmed in monochrome and set in Watanabe’s rural hometown of Otawara, Tochigi Prefecture, the segment centers on the fumbling attempts by an indie director (Watanabe) to film a sci-fi epic with local amateurs.
Connections with the other segments are initially nonexistent, but Watanabe ties everything together in the form of 10-year-old Riko, an aspiring actress who wants to emulate her idol, Machiko.
Let’s hope that by the time Riko ventures out to find fame and fortune the more disturbing scenes of “Kamata Prelude” are only echoes of a quickly receding past.
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