Friday, October 23, 2009

REVIEW: Screwed

ねじ式 (Neji-Shiki)

Released: 1998

Teruo Ishii

Tadanobu Asano
Miki Fujitani

Yujo Fujimori
Kazuhiko Kanayama
Tetsuro Tanba

Running time: 87 min.

Reviewed by Bob Turnbull

Opening and closing with dark orange hued, grotesque bodies writhing on a beach in some hellish orgy, Teruo Ishii's adaptation of a manga by Yoshiharu Tsuge is a feverish waking dream. Then again, considering that the entire film is bathed in pale orange light (though a bit lighter between the bookends), the staged descent of the main character into a surreal journey of chance meetings may actually be a never ending nightmare. Or not. You'll pretty much have to figure "Screwed" out on your own.

Tsube (one would think that Yoshiharu's story is at least semi-autobiographical) is a struggling manga artist and is played with quiet, moping sadness by Tadanobu Asano. The very first words we hear in the film are his own thoughts about how he has plenty of ideas, but can't bring them together as a coherent whole. He has no money and is dependent on his girlfriend of a few years. Though he is obviously not overly passionate about the relationship, he suspects her of infidelity when he finds condoms in her purse. His life is otherwise pretty empty, so this discovery sends him towards suicide. He ingests handfuls of sleeping pills, but can't even properly end his own life and winds up in a hospital bed.

Fittingly enough, he is forced to leave the hospital when he can no longer pay for his care and it's at this point that Tsube begins to wander about and come into contact with several different women. Each meeting seems to up the sexual ante between Tsube and his contact of the moment: a guest hostess at his first lodging establishment who tries to seduce him (he pulls away); private visits with a stripper who warns him of the depression pills will cause while also admonishing him because he won't look at her; an experienced woman (ie. used) that he claims is not his type because of her wantonness (though he allows himself the thought of having rough sex with her). Towards the end and after managing to acquire a very nasty jellyfish wound on his arm, he acquires some "help" from a woman gynecologist who believes she can fix him.

That's pretty much the film. Of course, it's loaded with images and symbols with which a psychoanalyst would likely have a field day. The bevy of phallic and yonic references add to the crashing waves, pouring rain and little trains that could (or could not in this case). Ishii was 74 years old when he directed this and I can't help but imagine him chuckling away while thinking of all the different things he could drop into the film. In particular is that gash in Tsube's arm which leads to a unique form of "screwing" as a cure. The cast is fine, but the characters are just ciphers - simply there to work through one man's detached and disillusioned feelings towards sex and relationships. There's not a whole lot of emotion on view here, but it's still an interesting ride. I can't identify with Tsube and I'm certainly happy not to, but it's still an engaging enough look at how an individual can separate themselves so completely from emotional attachment.

At least that's what I got from it. If this review feels somewhat confused and patched together with stray thoughts and tangents (in other words - plenty of ideas, but no coherent whole), it certainly fits the movie itself. And that's not necessarily a bad thing.

Read more from Bob Turnbull at his blog.


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