It can be an extremely difficult job for a performer to credibly play someone with a mental illness, particularly one who seems to be teetering on the edge of a manic episode. It’s all too easy for the character to become a slightly annoying parody. Kaori Momoi displays a supremely delicate range in the role of Azusa, a middle-aged prostitute who seeks psychiatric treatment from Dr Sanada (Yugo Saso). She discontinues the treatment and the two only meet again when Dr Sanada is asked by the police to determine Azusa’s state of mind when she’s accused of murder.
Azusa’s eyes display a level of bewilderment that she seems to be more-or-less resigned to, and it’s very much her movie. Dr Sanada is definitely the straight man whose questions keep the plot on track. Not content with just performing, Momoi also directed the film and adapted the screenplay from a short story by Fuminori Nakamura. The production is composed in a simple and elegant manner, which makes the occasional flashes of “crazy” all the more powerful. The simplistic composition of the scenes might have been a necessity as well as an artistic choice, since the whole thing was shot in ten days. It really doesn’t look like it though, and this is a testament to Momoi’s skills as a director.
In shifting the action from Japan (as was the case in the short story) to Los Angeles, the sense of alienation, of being a foreigner, becomes all the more potent, which gives greater strength to Azusa’s reactions to Dr Sanada’s questions. She evokes such sympathy when she asks him: “Do I deserve to live?”. The film doesn’t set out to answer that question, but one hopes that such a rich and fascinating female character certainly does deserve to live on in this fictional, somewhat dysfunctional world that Momoi has created.
Hee does not yet have an official UK release date.
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For further information about the 66th Berlin Film Festival 2016 visit here.