Review: M3GAN

Though hardly significant, Gerard Johnstone’s comic horror film arrives at a moment when the debate about the meaning of artificial intelligence is finally getting a serious airing, owing mainly to the emergence and popularity of ChatGPT. M3GAN has nothing to say about jobs lost or even the possibility of AI usurping human agency in the world. It’s more a cautionary tale about lazy parenting. The titular android’s murderous tendencies are simply a function of its programmed utility to protect a child from what it senses as harm.

Horror veteran Akela Cooper’s screenplay, however, is almost as lazy as the parenting on display. Eight-year-old Cady (Violet McGraw) is orphaned when her parents are killed in a car accident that she survives. Severely traumatized, she is left in the care of her unmarried Aunt Gemma (Alison Williams), a robotics expert who works for a very competitive toy company trying to come up with virtual and mechanical pets. Hounded at work by superiors who don’t think she’s trying hard enough (“Let’s kick Hasbro in the dick!”), Gemma has barely enough time to deal with this new addition to her household, let alone provide her with the psychological comforts that she needs to overcome her PTSD, which is exactly what a court-appointed psychiatrist says to Gemma. So she improvises in a way that also helps her with her work load, modifying a prototype humanoid robot that is designed to hold and analyze large amounts of input data and creating a playmate for Cady, one that, in addition to amusing her, sets her on the correct path for socialization by reminding her to do things like wash her hands before a meal. Though the technology is still in development, Cady quickly takes to her new companion so thoroughly that she doesn’t seem to care much for human companions her own age. Meanwhile, Gemma’s slimy boss sees the possibilities of a M3GAN rollout and badgers Gemma even more to get the thing ready for mass production.  

The most interesting aspect of M3GAN is the doll itself, which is dressed like doper’s idea of a 1970s Catholic schoolgirl and manifests movements that suggest a nerd with a lot of self-confidence but no real world experience. These attributes add to the creepy humor of the horror sequences once M3GAN identifies what it senses as threats to Cady’s well-being, including a bullying preteen male and, climactically, the CEO who is the main villain of the movie, but these sequences turn out to be unsatisfying as horror. M3GAN would have been much better had it simply went all-out as a comedy. AI-based horror movies are so 2010. 

Now playing in Tokyo at Toho Cinemas Nihonbashi (050-6868-5060), Toho Cinemas Hibiya (050-6868-5068), Shinjuku Piccadilly (050-6861-3011), Toho Cinemas Shinjuku (050-6868-5063), Shibuya Cine Quinto (03-3477-5905), Toho Cinemas Roppongi Hills (050-6868-5024). 

M3GAN home page in Japanese

photo (c) 2021 Universal Studios

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Number 1 Shimbun column for June

Here is a link to our Number 1 Shimbun column for June, which is about the so-called 2024 Problem related to a shortage of delivery drivers and truckers.

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Review: Peter von Kant

Though it’s not surprising that François Ozon would admire the work of Rainer Werner Fassbinder, you’d have to stretch to find points of thematic intersection. The most obvious thing the two directors have in common is that Fassbinder was and Ozon is heedlessly prolific, but Ozon seems to pride himself on his eclecticism, while the late German wünderkind was famous for his cold, political take on romantic melodrama—Douglas Sirk if the Nazis had never happened. Here, Ozon remakes one of those melodramas, 1972’s The Bitter Tears of Petra von Kant, but flips the genders. Fassbinder’s female fashion designer becomes Ozon’s male movie director, one that, as played by Denis Menochet, resembles Fassbinder, at least outwardly. And just as Petra von Kant’s object of desire was a working class young woman who wanted to be a model, Peter’s is a doe-eyed young hustler, Amir (Khalil Gharbia), who isn’t averse to becoming a film star under Peter’s trembling eye. However, except for Peter’s long-suffering, mute servant/assistant, Karl (Stefan Crepon), the other characters are women, whereas all the characters in Fassbinder’s original were women, so the gender-flip thing only goes so far, probably because Ozon has always been very comfortable with female characters.

So while Peter von Kant isn’t a frame-for-frame remake or even a pastiche of Fassbinder’s movie, it is very much an exercise, mostly in 70s production design, something that Ozon has done more than once before. Appropriately, the dramatic decisions align with the Technicolor-ready decor. Peter is comically full of himself, a self-identified auteur who, when stuck for an idea for his next film, dashes off a letter to Romy Schneider in order to get the ball rolling. Though seemingly successful, Peter functions on a spectrum of frantic desperation, trusting the faithful Karl to not only take care of his creature needs but also to type his scripts, which begs the question: Does Karl also write them? In any case, this chaotic work environment is interrupted by Sidonie (Isabelle Adjani), a current Hollywood star whom Peter discovered back in the day and who is in Cologne for no particular reason but brings along Amir, whom she picked up in Australia. It’s lust at first sight, except that after Peter invites Amir for an intimate dinner he learns of the young man’s tragic past and decides that this story will be his next movie. But first to bed!

Since everything, from Peter’s infatuation to Amir’s exploitation of that infatuation, is so broadly played, it’s difficult to determine where the melodrama ends and the farce begins, but the second half of this very precise film (half an hour shorter than Fassbinder’s) wobbles precariously between high camp and violent catharsis. A discerning viewer will note that Ozon has secured Hannah Schygulla, the aspiring model in Petra, to play Peter’s mother. Though Ozon can occasionally be less than sincere in his dramatic aims, I would never in the past have accused him of resorting to gimmicks.

In French and German. Now playing in Tokyo at Human Trust Cinema Yurakucho (03-6259-8608), Shinjuku Musashinokan (03-3354-5670). 

Peter von Kant home page in Japanese

photo (c) 2022 FOZ-France 2 Cinema-Playtime Production/Carol Bethuel_Foz

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Review: Women Talking

There’s a lot of context, not to mention subtext, to Sarah Polley’s latest film, for which she won an adapted screenplay Oscar. Polley based her script on a novel by Miriam Toews, who was inspired by the true story of a group of men sentenced to long prison terms in Bolivia for raping drugged women in their Mennonite community over a five-year period. The fictional conceit of the story, which has been transplanted to Canada, is that while the remaining men in the community are in town to bail out the one member who has been arrested after being accused by the mother of his victim—a toddler—some of the women in the enclave gather to discuss what they will do. The entire movie takes place in a barn, with the women—and some girls—debating their collective fate. In the end, it comes down to a fairly simple choice: Should they stay or should they go? But it takes them an awful long time, cinematically speaking, to reach that decision. 

The main sticking point would seem to be their faith. In accordance with the tenets of their religious culture they are beholden to two forces: God and the male elders of the community. Consequently, the discussion takes in both theocratic philosophy and a rather 21st century approach to sexual politics. Polley is shrewd enough to maintain each character’s distinctive voice and avoids soap-boxing or over-intellectualizing, and yet the cumulative effect is that of a symposium populated by people trying to make sense of a problem they’ve only thought about in private. Every woman has a story, and every story has a moral. The ringer is a young man named August (Ben Whishaw), who once belonged to the community but left it. He has now returned in the capacity of a school teacher, and is taking the minutes of the discussion because none of the women can read or write. Despite his more overt intellectual resources—he attended university—he withholds his opinions and, for the most part, the women don’t ask for them, even after one comments that “not all men” are sexual predators. As it stands, the women have already been told to forgive their trespassers, an order that sets off those who have obviously been contemplating their subservience skeptically for a long time. Though all the women talking have been subjected to sexual violence in some way or another, each has addressed the reality with different degrees of accommodation. Mariche (Jessie Buckley), who is married to an abuser in waking life, is perhaps the most trenchant observer of male perfidy and speaks with a plainness of purpose that passes as the movie’s conscience. But while the unmarried Ona (Rooney Mara) is more emotionally engaged in the discussion owing to the fact that she is pregnant as a result of rape, her arguments in contrast feel less weighty. Meanwhile Salome (Claire Foy), the woman who indicated the man under arrest after attacking him with a pitchfork, seems most concerned with the latent violence her actions exposed in her heart. 

Polley makes sure all possibilities are covered—Frances McDormand has an extended cameo as the head of a group of women who’ve already decided to stay—and in doing so the development often lacks freshness because the input is so even-handed. There is even a character named Melvin (August Winter) who has been traumatized into what some might call a nonbinary identity, but of all the characters only Mariche makes her position truly felt. Powerful in theory, Women Talking as a story doesn’t necessarily benefit from its adaptation to the screen. It might have made a very good play with direction that emphasized the ebb and flow of primal feelings that such dialogue, performed in a closed space without interruption, is meant to expose in real time. As it stands, it’s more of an exercise in profound empathy.

Opens June 2 in Tokyo at Toho Cinemas Nihonbashi (050-6868-5060), Toho Cinemas Chanter Hibiya (050-6868-5001), Shibuya Parco White Cine Quinto (03-6712-7225), Toho Cinemas Roppongi Hills (050-6868-5024).

Women Talking home page in Japanese

photo (c) 2022 Orion Releasing LLC

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Media watch: How Johnny’s exploits the pin-up factor to keep publishers in line

Aera cover from 2019 with deleted image of Johnny’s act SixTONES

Now that the cat is way out of the bag, Japanese mainstream media are finally covering the Johnny Kitagawa sexual abuse story in all its lurid detail, even though it has been an open secret for decades. I talked about some of the reasons for the hands-off attitude in a recent editorial in The Japan Times, but in a nutshell, Japanese media companies have complex business associations with subsidiaries that often dealt with Johnny & Associates, Kitagawa’s all-powerful male talent agency, and these subsidiaries were loath to upset the old man. Now that he’s dead going on four years and the BBC bust the whole story wide open by interviewing Johnny’s idols who had been systematically and serially molested by Kitagawa, there’s nothing left to hide, and for the most part major news outlets are admitting that they didn’t fulfill their responsibility as pillars of journalism by ignoring the claims in the past. Recently on the web talk show Democracy Times, former Aera editor Keiko Hamada confessed that while she was aware of the reports about Kitagawa’s crimes she paid no attention because Aera often ran portraits of Johnny’s idols on her magazines’ covers, and they always boosted sales considerably. 

An iron grip on portrait rights, or permission to print or post images of Johnny’s charges, has always been one of the agency’s main means of keeping the media in line, and still seems to be if you run a search of past Aera covers on the web. Any that featured a Johnny’s star is replaced with a grey silhouette. The exception is Takuya Kimura, arguably Johnny’s biggest solo star as a former member of SMAP. Kimura makes his career as an actor these days, and while he is still represented by Johnny’s, he seems to have some independence. He may have more personal discretion over granting portrait rights to involved endeavors, so the Aera cover that was used to promote his latest film, The Legend and Butterfly, could be accessed on the net without any retouching.

And elsewhere. Though Johnny’s itself has come out and apologized (with caveats) for Kitagawa’s transgressions, not all news outlets have covered the story in full. Perhaps the most notable example is the weekly magazine Shukan Shincho, which would normally be all over anything reeking of scandal in the show business world. Why the publication has avoided the ruckus isn’t clear. Most likely Shincho—or its publisher, Shinchosha—is keeping its options open. Though Johnny & Associates may have egg on its face, it is still a powerful player in the media world. Its idols remain extremely popular and Shinchosha probably hopes that when the dust settles it can take advantage of whatever favors it has curried with Johnny’s by avoiding the whole sorry business. 

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Media watch: History shortchanged several times over at Hiroshima summit

Hiroshima Peace Memorial Park

On May 24, South Korea’s Hankyoreh news agency posted an editorial about the “joint tribute” paid by Korean President Yoon Suk-yeol and Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida to Korean victims of the 1945 atomic bombing in the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Park at the end the recent  G7 Summit. It was the first time leaders of the two countries had honored Korean victims together, though the editorial noted that the late former Japanese prime minister, Keizo Obuchi, had done so by himself in 1999 after the memorial was relocated to a spot within the park. The memorial was originally erected in 1970 but at a location outside the park because of Japanese objections. At the time they were exposed to the bomb, the Koreans were nominally Japanese citizens, since Korea was a colony of Japan until the end of the war, and yet the keepers of the Peace Park did not allow the memorial to be erected on its grounds because it was for Koreans.

The number of Korean victims was considerable: 50,000 were exposed of whom 30,000 died immediately or shortly thereafter. An association of Korean victims was founded in 1967 to demand “treatment and compensation” from the Japanese government, which was not forthcoming. In 1945, 2.4 million Koreans lived in Japan, either because they had gone there for work or were conscripted. Of these, 140,000 were living in Hiroshima, which was the base of the Second General Army command. That’s why it was a target of the U.S. atomic bombing.

Hankyoreh recognizes that the joint visit by Yoon and Kishida is significant if overdue, and apparently it was suggested by Kishida during his visit to South Korea on May 7. No South Korean president had ever officially visited the memorial before, and Japanese politicians in general tend to avoid any sort of involvement in annual memorial ceremonies in Hiroshima on August 6 for various political reasons. Though Kishida could be credited with drawing the world’s attention to the atomic bombing by selecting Hiroshima, his home town, as the site of this year’s summit, the topic of non-proliferation and any expression of remorse on America’s part during the event was strictly off the table. After all, Japan is now a full partner in the U.S. defense strategy for the Asia-Pacific region, which means Japan is effectively under the American nuclear umbrella. 

But Hankyoreh’s complaint about what wasn’t said at the summit was more parochial: Though Kishida may have recognized Korean victims of the bombing he did not address why they were victims in the first place. He said nothing about Japan’s colonial rule of the Korean peninsula from 1910 to 1945, nor the practice of forced labor of Koreans during the war. Hankyoreh characterized this elision as much more than just a missed opportunity. Japan has never apologized for its colonial rule, since it doesn’t even acknowledge it.

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Review: Young Plato

Pedagogical films, whether documentary or dramatic, always focus on the teacher-student dynamic; specifically, the way educational professionals address the personal foibles of their charges in order to impart knowledge that the charges have difficulty accessing because of those foibles. The most dramatic, and often stereotypical, situations take place in inner city milieus—the innerer the better—where the very environment works against the teacher’s best intentions due to socioeconomic deficiencies, family problems, and ambient violence, all of which are complexly intertwined. Exceptional instructors “break through” these obstacles and show their students the beauty and endless wonder of the human mind. Declan McGrath and Neasa Ní Chianáin’s documentary about Kevin McArevey, the headmaster of the Holy Cross Boys Primary School in Belfast, Northern Ireland, doesn’t even bother with classroom business. We never see the students studying, and thus the movie never provides the breakthrough that pedagogical stories rely on to draw the viewer in. It dwells solely on the task of helping the children, who are all pre-adolescent males, overcome their environment, which is in an urban area that, as one middle aged lecturer puts it, was once as prone to terrorist activity as any place in the Middle East. 

Though Northern Island has been at peace since the late 90s thanks to a hard-won political process, the majority Catholic neighborhood of Ardoyne, where the school is located, is still subject to threats of violence from loyalists, and as McArevey suggests throughout the film, the forebears of the children he teaches—mainly the fathers and grandfathers, but the mothers and grandmothers, too—carry huge chips on their shoulders for having lived through the Troubles, and these boys inherited that “anxiety,” as he calls it. Having survived a youth of “fighting and drinking” himself, McArevey devised a routine that uses classical philosophical methodology, principally the idea of the Socratic Circle, to help the boys think on their own and understand how dealing with feelings that they find debilitating not only helps clear away the fear and hatred of everyday existence but opens up new worlds of possibility. For the most part, these anxieties manifest as dustups in the schoolyard, and the routine morning philosophical exercises confront questions such as, Is it OK to take out my anger on someone else? or Is it possible to think of nothing? The intention is to impart the concept that “everyone has a different way of thinking,” and that the basis of philosophy isn’t simply challenging one’s beliefs, but challenging what one “knows.” Though this idea sounds arcane, McArevey makes it relevant to the boys in a plain way, which isn’t to say it’s automatically and consistently successful. The anxieties for some boys are intractable: one kid is so self-conscious about his diabetes that he seems to attract abuse like a magnet; and two cousins always seem to be at each other’s throats even though they understand how stupid their internecine rivalry is. 

“There are no hopeless cases,” McArevey tells his subordinate teachers, who faithfully—nay, lovingly—apply his theories, which are informed as much by his love of Elvis Presley as by the teachings of Seneca, and the filmmakers perhaps put too much store in the methodology without actually investigating its scholastic fruits. It’s refreshing to see an academic environment where grades aren’t the gauge for evaluating development, but I kept wondering what kind of young men these boys would turn into in terms of intellectual capacity. Young Plato is an affecting, stirring showcase for McArevey’s ideas, and if they seem overly specific to this particular cultural and historical situation, then it only goes to show how adaptable the canon can be in helping young people improve themselves. Long live the liberal arts!

Now playing in Tokyo at Euro Space Shibuya (03-3461-0211).

Young Plato home page in Japanese

photo (c) Soilsiu Films, Aisling Productions, Clin d’oeil films, Zadig Productions, MMXXI

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Review: Aftersun

Charlotte Wells’ debut feature uses nostalgia to interrogate the fraught relationship between a 31-year-old father, Calum (Paul Mescal), and his 11-year-old daughter, Sophie (Frankie Corio). The bulk of the film takes place in the late 90s during a vacation in Turkey that may have been the last time Sophie saw Calum, a situation suggested by the way Wells occasionally shifts the time frame to Sophie as she turns the same age her father did during their brief sojourn on the Turkish coast. Wells uses camcorder footage to provide immediacy and sun-drenched evidentiary visuals that Sophie in her adult form can use to help her remember those precious days she spent with her father, but the movie is for the most part cinematically presented—diligently composed and framed to explore the emotional contours of the vacation. The audience is complicit in Sophie’s search for clues as to why things turned out the way they did, even if we aren’t in on what exactly did happen.

Through carefully sequenced dialogue we come to learn that Calum and Sophie’s mother have been estranged for some time, if, in fact, they were ever together at all. Calum appears now to have a male partner, and left Edinburgh, where Sophie and her mother live, to escape some painful memory. He doesn’t have much money—a source of some humorous friction between the two—but does lay down a sizable sum of cash for a Turkish rug at one point. The source of his occasional descents into sullen contemplation, petulance, and, at one point, a jag of isolated sobbing that is painful to watch, are never revealed outright, though Sophie’s questions sometimes elicit more information than she expects, as when she asks him what he did on his 11th birthday and he reluctantly answers that his parents forgot all about it. 

The movie doesn’t dwell on Calum’s suffering but strongly suggests it while outlining Sophie’s difficulties in facing maturity—hanging out with older, more jaded Britons in the somewhat cheesy resort where they’re staying, getting her first kiss from a shy kid she meets at the game arcade, and trying without success to leave behind childish things. One of the more brilliant touches is the infantile tone she assumes when she’s the object of the camcorder’s gaze, immediately reverting to a mock cynical preteen attitude when the red light is off. In contrast, Calum falls into tai-chi moves whenever he’s at a loss for something to do, indicating that his interest in Eastern ideas is more therapeutic than anything else. And while Aftersun accumulates a great deal of sadness as it progresses, the heartbreak it arrives at has an exhilirating air about it, best characterized by adult Sophie’s hallucinations of she and Calum sharing a dance floor in a strobe-illuminated club. Whatever it was that befell Calum, I don’t feel sorry for these two. If anything, I envy them the deepness of their love for each other. 

Now playing in Tokyo at Human Trust Cinema Yurakcho (03-6259-8608), Shinjuku Piccadilly (050-6861-3011), Human Trust Cinema Shibuya (03-5468-5551).

Aftersun home page in Japanese

photo (c) Turkish Riviera Run Club Limited, British Broadcasting Corporation, The British Film Institute & Tango 2022

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Review: Creed III

Though I enjoyed Creed II, I blamed the fall-off in visceral and dramatic involvement on the absence of Ryan Coogler at the helm, though it may have had more to do with the usual expectations. Coogler rebooted the Rocky franchise with a vibrant story that not only built on the original legacy but made a potent claim for its own right to exist. Star Michael B. Jordan directs the third installment—the first one without Stallone—which retains much of the excitement of the first movie but also seems to lack any attempt at originality. The film is a compendium of boxing movie cliches that, while staged with brio and heart, doesn’t do much to advance the premise that Coogler so winningly put forth.

One issue is the way the movie posits a component of Adonis “Donnie” Creed’s (Jordan) childhood as being formatively tragic but somehow forgotten. In flashbacks, we see a teenage Donnie hanging out with his best friend, Damien “Dame” Anderson, doing the usual mischief that kids do, but when things turn dangerous it’s Dame who is sent up for weapons possession, with Donnie free to go on to become the heavyweight champion of the world, even though Dame showed more promise as a boxer in his youth. When the movie starts, Donnie is already on the brink of retirement, having earned millions as a fighter and hoping to concentrate on his family and turn to coaching while helping his musician wife, Bianca (Tessa Thompson), cope with her encroaching deafness. And then Dame (Jonathan Majors) shows up after finally getting out of the slammer to reclaim what he believes is his—a shot at greatness in the ring, just like Donnie got. That he approaches this goal obliquely, using Donnie’s guilt to get him back in the game and then manipulating that guilt to challenge Donnie’s legacy as one of the greatest, is the core theme that Coogler, who sketched out the story, and the writers, Keegan Coogler and Zach Baylin, flesh out. 

The movie’s most powerful moments can be credited to Majors, who, along with his role in the recent Ant-Man movie, has become the heavy of the season (a status that, unfortunately, has been reinforced by offscreen reports of domestic abuse). Donnie is still in the game through his support for the newest champion, Felix Chavez (Jose Benavidez), and Dame maneuvers himself, through a form of intimidation that he ramps up continually, to demand a challenge to the champ that Donnie falls for and then regrets. Matters come to a predictable head with Donnie reentering the ring to take on Dame himself, and while I found the mechanics of this development contrived, Majors keeps it intense and Jordan is forced to keep up in response, making it a confrontation for the ages. Even the requisite training montages (what would a Rocky installment be without them?) add to the thrill. What suffers is all the peripheral business that Coogler balanced so effectively in the first Creed, in particular, Donnie’s home life and Bianca’s place in it. In Creed III Thompson has little to do but question Donnie’s motives and when personal tragedy strikes it feels hollow. Creed III is a better-than-average boxing movie, which isn’t saying much because boxing movies comprise a genre that’s already overextended. 

Opens May 26 in Tokyo at Toho Cinemas Nihonbashi (050-6868-5060), Marunouchi Piccadilly (050-6875-0075), 109 Cinemas Premium Shinjuku (0570-060-109), Shinjuku Wald 9 (03-5369-4955), Shinjuku Piccadilly (050-6861-3011), Toho Cinemas Roppongi Hills (050-6868-5024).

Creed III home page in Japanese

photo (c) 2023 Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Pictures Inc.

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Review: The Apartment With Two Women

Kim Se-in’s debut feature won the New Currents and Audience awards at the 2021 Busan International Film Festival, as well as the festival’s Actress of the Year prize for Im Jee-ho’s performance. The Apartment With Two Women also won the NETPAC Award, given by representatives of foreign film festivals, and the Watcha Award, a Korean prize for new filmmakers, which will give you a fairly good idea of what kind of movie it is. Im’s citation seems appropriate because the movie is, if anything, an actors’ showcase, though, personally, I felt Yang Mal-bok, who played the other woman of the title, made more of an impression. Kim’s script and direction convey a strong sense of autobiography spiked with hyperbolic scenes plucked from her imagination, and yet it’s difficult to see the protagonist, Yi-jung (Im), as a proxy for the director, who, after all, possessed the wherewithal to get into film school and make this ambitious 140-minute portrayal of a fraught mother-daughter relationship that often descends into comic albeit bloodletting arguments. In contrast, Yi-jung is the ultimate depressive offspring who just can’t leave home.

The film’s Korean and Japanese title translates as “two women who wear the same underwear,” which may have been too gross for Western distributors but I tend to think the prosaic English title was chosen because the original was easy to misunderstand. Mother Soo-kyung (Yang) and daughter Yi-jung don’t share the same panties because they’re the same size or have similar tastes, but rather because the household is so chaotic that no one really cares whose underwear they’re wearing, as long as it’s in tact and relatively clean. What’s clear from the opening scene is that Soo-kyung, beyond wishing that her daughter, who is in her mid-20s, would just move out, has never wanted her around in the first place, because Soo-kyung has always done just what she wants to do and doesn’t care what Yi-jung thinks. Having always known this since she was a little girl, Yi-jung has developed a resentment toward her carelessly carefree mother that has curdled into pure hatred when circumstances align in the worst way, as when Soo-kyung, infuriated by something that happened off-screen, drives their little Kia straight into Yi-jung in the parking lot of a supermarket, not only sending her to the hospital but also to a lawyer’s office, where she files a lawsuit accusing her mother of reckless endangerment. Such a scenario would be enough for a rip-roaring comedy, but it’s only one episode among many that show how the only end to this relationship is either one woman killing the other or Yi-jung finally getting it together and moving out.

Though the theme is hardly original, Kim earns points for avoiding much of the sentimental undertow that usually pulls this sort of movie down. She doesn’t bother with a back story, so we never know who Yi-jung’s father is or why he isn’t in the picture. Though Soo-kyung has excellent reasons for demanding her daughter move out, her abject intolerance of Yi-jung’s presence will itself be intolerable to most viewers, and while Yi-jung may evince sympathy for having to put up with her mother’s emotional and physical violence, her glum attitude is just as off-putting. Kim doesn’t want us to like either woman; or, for that matter, anyone else in the movie, including Soo-kyung’s patronizing and conniving fiancee, Yi-jung’s slightly more ambitious but no less sourpuss work colleague with whom she attempts to strike up a friendship, and the unhappy married couple who regularly patronize Soo-kyung’s shabby cross between a tea room and herbal health supplement dispensary. And yet the length never becomes a slog because of Kim’s skill in making these stereotypes fresh and often funny—especially Soo-kyung’s penchant for fashions that are not only out of her age league, but look at least 20 years out of date, not to mention her hilarious attempts at self-improvement. Sometimes off-putting characters make for a very enlightening film experience. 

In Korean. Now playing in Tokyo at Theater Image Forum Aoyama (03-5766-0114).

The Apartment With Two Women home page in Japanese

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