Asako I & II (Netemo Sametemo)
This is a strange, almost naïve film that plunges a high-concept romance into a banal, lifeless world. Therein lies its profundity, perhaps, but it makes for a disjointed, peculiarly shallow experience. If it is anything, Ryusuke Hamaguchi’s Asako I & II is a testament to the innate inadequacy of love, the reality of manifold desire and the dirtied beauty of compromised intimacy.
The title indicates the feature’s concern with dual identities and multiple motivations: Asako (Erika Karata) falls in love once differently or twice the same, depending on your perspective. Her infatuation rests on a male doppelganger: the first incarnation Baku is an absent, flash, enigmatic bore, while the second Ryohei is a caring, straight-edged, attentive bore (both played by Masahiro Higashide). What a choice. For the first love she suffers cruelty; for the second she inflicts it.
The off-centre, stilted dialogue perpetuates our sense of unease. With references to theatre, Ibsen and Chekhov, the breakdown of language is all the more unsettling. Even the attempts at humour – essentially the inclusion of a fluffy cat – feel tacked on, acting as a strategy to beguile and disconcert. Harsh discordant blasts signal the moments of heartbreak, punctuating the eerie fugue. With the main character, there’s a great sense of aloneness, compounded through her blank, internalised expression. Present and absent friends cannot pierce through the detachment.
Desire is necessarily selfish and attraction impulsive. Despite every indicator that Ryohei provides a perfect partner, Asako doesn’t forget Baku easily. This is how love works: illogical and confounding, untidy and unfair. There’s a striking scene by the ocean. Peeking over the concrete fortification, Asako stares out. In Kate Chopin’s novella The Awakening, the sea indicates the end for the female protagonist, a watery suicide. This can be interpreted as a final act of self-realisation, but Hamaguchi pulls back from something so definitive. Instead, we’re offered a romantic compromise, workable but impure.
Asako I & II (Netemo Sametemo) does not have a UK release date yet.
Read more reviews from our Cannes Film Festival 2018 coverage here.
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Watch a clip from Asako I & II (Netemo Sametemo) here: