Friday, May 1, 2009
NIPPON CONNECTION '09 REVIEW: mime-mime
マイム マイム (mime-mime)
Running time: 87 min.
Reviewed by Chris MaGee
I remember once going out with friends to restaurant for a Friday night out. We'd just gotten settled in with our drinks when a family came in and sat across from us. There was Dad, Mom, what looked like an Aunt and Uncle, a young boy about 11-years-old and a girl in her mid-teens. Everyone seemed to be happy to be out, smiling, laughing and joking as they scanned through their menus... that is all except the teenage girl. Almost immediately after they were shown to their table she slouched down as far away as possible from the rest, cracked open a book and proceeded to read and pout for the rest of the night. Fine, I didn't always think it was fun hanging out with my family when I was a teenager, but I doubt I was ever as rude as this girl was. Every time her parents tried to involve her or her Aunt and Uncle tried to get a smile out of her she would just sit there and role her eyes. I have no idea what the real story of this family was, but from what I could see it didn't look like they beat this kid or berated her. By the time we asked for our bill I came to the conclusion that she was just a spoiled brat and I was actually kind of glad that we were leaving so I could get away from her. Why am I relating this story? Because I got a major flashback to that girl as I sat watching Yukiko Sode's debut feature "mime-mime".
Makoto (Ayaco Niijima) is a directionless, misanthropic young woman living in Tokyo. After graduating high school she took a job as a beautician, but quickly quit and now spends her days visiting the office of her old teacher, Shibuchin, where she sexually services him. To call this arrangement an affair would be a bit of an overstatement because if Makoto is anything she's afraid of any kind of commitment. She doesn't look for another job because she can't commit to the time and effort to keep it, she avoids her mother and sister because she simply can't deal with the responsibilities of family life, she even refuses to use her beautician skills and cut her friend Aya's or Shibuchin's hair because that would mean she'd get attached to them. This aimless existence seems to have been going on for a while, that is until she's forced to attend a family get together where she reunites with Shigeru, a long-time friend of her mother, and his son Nakaji (Masahisa Yamazoe), an old playmate of from Makoto's childhood. She reluctantly becomes involved with Nakaji, but their relationship soon becomes very complicated. Makoto's mother and Nakaji's father reveal that they will be getting married, which would end up making the two of them brother and sister.
From the first time we see Makoto going down on her old high school teacher and right through to the end of the film where she cuts her own hair (representing a renewed commitment to herself I suppose) it was obvious that the subject of "mime-mime" was youthful cynicism and narcissism. Now that's not always a bad thing, in fact I sometimes like films with unlikable, self-involved characters, but only if the filmmaker can somehow make me empathize with them. That didn't happen with Makoto, mostly because it seemed that everyone around her was supportive and loving, maybe not always original or terribly intelligent, but supportive and loving nonetheless. From Makoto's 20-year-old blinkered point of view that might not count for much, but for an audience of adults it got downright frustrating to see this girl throw everything good in her life out on the pavement like her frequently up-ended purse. As for the added twist of what will happen when it looks like Makoto and her boyfriend Nakaji will soon become brother and sister, well, this could have saved the film. If Makoto had gone from being just sullen and annoying to downright transgressive by continuing to sleep with her new sibling then "mime-mime" would have at least had a voyeuristic edge to it, but Sode deliberately avoids any mention of continued intimacy after Makoto and Nakiji's parents announce their engagement.
So, it was somewhere around the halfway point, between the blowjob and the do-it-yourself haircut, that I started wondering how "mime-mime" had managed to secure not only the runner-up prize at the 2008 PIA Film Festival, right behind Masahide Ichii's sublime "Naked of Defenses", but the Avex Entertainment Award as well. It may have partly been due to Takuma Furusho's creative cinematography. While "mime-mime" was shot entirely on digital video Furusho plays with the exposure, contrast and brightness in order to give the audience a feast of hyper-saturated colours. It shows real ingenuity and results in some truly breathtaking shots, albeit with some of the bright reds and oranges stinging the eyes a bit, but that could have been more a fault of the digital projection in the theatre I saw "mime-mime" in than the original video image itself. This lush surface beauty couldn't save the film for me though and when the end credits rolled I was glad that I was leaving, just in the same way that I had been glad to leave the restaurant in my story, if only to get away from a truly annoying and self-centered little girl.