Friday, July 11, 2008

REVIEW: Install - Kei Kataoka (2004)

Reviewed by Chris MaGee

Okay, here is a film that did a number on my head, leaving me wondering if I’ve just seen a truly original film or if I’m a dirty old perv. I sincerely hope I’m the former and not the latter, but… let me explain.

“Install” is director Kei Kataoka’s 2004 big screen adaptation of Risa Wataya’s 2001 coming of age novel of the same name. Wataya is a literary phenomena in Japan having taken home the Akutagawa Prize for her 2003 novel “Keritai Senaka (The Back You Want to Kick)” at the ripe old age of 19, making her the youngest author ever to win the coveted literary award, so if you do the math “Install” was written when Wataya was only 17, the same age as the story’s main character Asako, but “Install” is hardly a “Sweet Valley High” young adult novel.

Asako, played by Aya Ueto (Azumi), is in crisis. The film opens on a series of fantasy sequences in which she faces the very real teenage dilemma: how do I assert my individuality? Make the right choices in my life? She debates this with an imaginary classmate, Koichi (Shichinosuke Nakamura) who suggests she take a day off to think about it. “If I did that I worry I would never go back to school,” she tells him, and in the end this is exactly what happens; one day playing hooky becomes two, then three and before you know it Asako has stopped going to school altogether. She marks her new life of perpetual truancy by clearing out everything from her room: furniture, stereo, childhood toys and puts them out for the trash. Even the computer that her late grandfather gave her with a promise of emailing her everyday gets put out by the curb. Ojiisan’s dead anyway and the computer’s busted, so... It’s while she lay on the pavement amongst her discarded possessions that she meets a 10 year-old neighbour boy, Aoki (Ryunosuke Kamiki from Takashi Miike’s “The Great Yokai War”). He’s old for his age and doesn’t seem thrown by the impromptu garage sale, only asking for the computer saying that he can probably fix it, and fix it he does, installing all new software. With the computer up and running and Asako with nothing but time on her hands Aoki makes her a job offer, something that might help her change her life… and this is where I ran into a bit of trouble with “Install”.

The job is this: Helping 10 year-old Aoki run a sex chat site on the internet. You heard me right. He himself has been helping out a 25 year-old single mother he met online (but never in person) to run the site while she takes care of her new baby, but Aoki has no way of handling the clients that surf the site while he's at school. That's where Asako would come in, and she does, first reluctantly then excitedly; and she has to come up to speed quickly dealing with lonely salarymen, horny students and at times dangerous predators. Now, I knew that this was the hook of "Install", but still after Aoki's offer to Asako I thought, "Mmmm, I may pass on this one," but something kept me watching, namely great comic timing between Ueto and Kamiki, some lovely cinematography and most importantly a script (written by Mika Omori) that's obviously provocative, but never porny and that treats its young characters with sensitivity and respect.... but they're still running a sex chat site. So, you see my dilemma.

Are we ready to have someone come along and turn topics such as teen sexuality, child exploitation and sex on the internet on its ear? Are we ready to be entertained in this way? Then again aren't sensationalist shows like "To Catch a Predator" kind of already doing that? And what if the story was being told not by an adult in a position of maturity and power, but by a 17 year-old female novelist? And the film was written and directed by women? Honestly, I don't know, but I do know that "Install" is a very good film, but are we ready for a film like this to be made? If you get a chance watch the film and decide for yourself.

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