Friday, November 7, 2008

REVIEW: Close Your Eyes and Hold Me - Itsumichi Isomura (1996)

Reviewed by Bob Turnbull

How do you make a film dealing with the consequences of both sexual naivete and sexual awakening and end up with something that's as dull as dishwater? Itsumichi Isomura (director of said film from 1996) has the answer.

Amane seems to be resigned to his life. He works in a cold sterile office complex in an even colder more sterile city. He has one friend, a rather empty apartment and a girlfriend who is mapping out their wedding even though he seems ambivalent towards her. Then one day while driving he hits a woman and brings her to the hospital. He tells everyone that he found her by the roadside, but admits to her that he was responsible and that he will do anything for her. She disappears, but he feels he must find her again. And he does. As a singer and hostess in a transvestite club.

Though stunningly beautiful, Hanabusa claims that she is really a man. Amane is curious and they eventually begin a sexual relationship that becomes obsessive. Hanabusa has a great deal to teach Amane from the feminine as well as the masculine perspective. He rashly dumps his girlfriend Juri, but she cannot accept that they will not be married so she tracks down Amane's new love. And she too ends up in a sexual relationship with Hanabusa (which also is quite educational). But through all these scenes of lovemaking (and there's plenty of them), there's little to no eroticism. As a matter of fact, they almost become slightly comical towards the end. There's not even any tension built up due to the love triangle - the most we get is some poorly attempted melodrama that falls flat. Perhaps all that is due to the completely bland characters with which we've been presented - Amane and Juri give us no reason to really care what happens to them or their relationship and Hanabusa shows none of the torment she is supposed to be feeling as one of "God's playthings". The most interesting thing about the character is that it's played by a woman (Kumiko Takeda).

There are a few interesting aspects to the film - the office building and its external walkways and plazas are completely bereft of colour, warmth and people. The only place in pretty much the entire film where any warm lighting occurs is within Hanabusa's apartment. As well, certain static shots have tilted angles to them reflecting the imbalance the characters must be feeling as they struggle to make sense of the new experiences being opened up to them. Unfortunately, the film just simply doesn't have a story or a set of characters that can been enhanced by these techniques. It all just makes the dishwater slightly more interesting to look at.

Read more from Bob Turnbull at his blog.

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