Running time: 108 min.
Reviewed by Chris MaGee
A man (Etsushi Toyokawa) wanders down a quiet residential street with a hammer tucked into the back pocket of his jeans. He goes up to one house and tries the door. It's locked. He moves onto the next house. This door is open, but a child's bike parked outside makes him hesitate, but only for a second. A cheery "Okaeri! (Welcome home!)" comes from inside, a mother's greeting. The man pulls the hammer out of his pocket and steps through the foyer, the door closing behind him. We in the audience must watch helplesslessly as first the young daughter and then the father return home, walking through that front door never suspecting the murderer who waits for them. The tension that's built up during this opening scene from Kunitoshi Manda's 2008 film "Seppun (Kiss)" immediately puts our nervers on edge and sets the mood for the next 108 minutes.
With this chilling crime established Manda then introduces us to Kyoko Endo (Eiko Koike), a 28-year-old office worker. She's stiff, serious and doesn't seem to have any friends at her workplace. Mostly the other women use her to run errands and write reports that they then take credit for.. Obviously Kyoko's is a sad, sullen and lonely existence, one that Manda uses as counterpoint to the murderer's baiting of the police. While reports of his brutal murders are splashed across the headlines and airwaves the nameless killer takes a bank card stolen from the crime scene, withdraws a large amount of cash at an instant teller, and telephones the police on his cell phone telling them to come and get him as he brazenly shows his fac on the security camera. After this he personally alerts the media to his imminent arrest and when Kyoko gets home from work that night she turns on the TV to see fottage of Akio Sakaguchi, 43, unemployed, from Fukuoka being taken into custody for the triple murder of an innocent family. Kyoko is transfixed, but when Sakaguxhi flashes an enigmatic smile to the cameras as he's pushed into the back of a police car it's love at first sight.
Lonely, awkward women falling for men incarcerated for terribl crimes. On the face of it this phenomena is the most extreme example of "bad boy appeal" and has been fodder for tabloids, true crime paperbacks, and day time talk shows for years. There's even been dating websites set up for these women to meet prisoners. "The Kiss" may start out as a taut thriller, but once Sakaguchi is in custody and Kyoko's life becomes consumed by her obession with him the film shifts gears and becomes a mytsery. Why did sakaguchi randomly kill an entire family? And most importantly, why wuld Kyoko, or any other woman for that matter, fall for this dangerous and possibly insane stranger? Manda tries, with varying degrees of success, to answer these questions throughout the remainder of the film.
Toyokawa as Sakaguchi is certainly magnetic when he's onscreen. Locked away behind bars and bullet proof glass he's a puzzling question mark, possibly a monster, possibly a victim of mental illness. The main reason for this is that besides an initial confession and a plea for the death penalty he won't discuss details of the murders, motivations behind them, his personal history, nothing. His defense lawyer Hasegawa (Toru Nakamura) feels like he's beating his head against a brick wall. He doesn't speak a word. Kyoko believes that she knows what makes Sakaguchi, her new soulmate tick, and Hasegawa decides that the best thing is to bring her on board to try and make Sakaguchi speak. It's definitely not the smartest move, one that you hghly doubt a professional defense attorny would make, but in terms of developing Kyoko as a character it makes sense. While her newfound love/ obsession for Sakaguchi has given her a purpose in life, has made her feel special, privy to the mind of a killer, in reality Hasegawa's use of her to crack into his client is just another example of how Kyoko's co-workers used her in the office. Kyoko knows what has made her life a misery, how isolation and resentment have festered in her and left her blaming the world for her misfortunes, but because of this she believes that she knows and understands Sakaguchi's deepest motives. We in the audience can see the reality of the situation though. Kyoko is not truly in love with Sakaguchi, she's certainly not a criminal profiler, and Hasegawa won't get what he needs from his client by using her as bait, in fact Kyoko's pitiful and tragic life will lead to even more agony and violence.
Manda, who is a contemporary of director Kiyoshi Kurosawa, shares his fellow filmmakers aptitude for building an all pervasive, almost suffocating mood of gloom, and with the talent of Koike as Kyoko (she actually won Best actress at the Yokohama Film Festival for her performance) "The Kiss" is definitely a a tense ride, and while it may give us insight into the mind of someone immature and narcissistic enough to think that they would know what motivates a killer it doesn't present any satisfactory answers about the killer himself. Maybe it's best that way as the character of Sakjaguchi wouldn't be half as frightening if he were easily explained away.