Starring: Megumi Kato Momoko Maeda Hiroyuki Sato Kosuke Takagi
Running time: 92 mins.
Reviewed by Nicholas Vroman
There’s a certain hysteria of twentyish love – where everything is a do or die moment, where love (or lack of) pushes a person to operatic highs (and lows), where desperation runs hand in hand with passion, where young souls reveal themselves with a self-possessed and naked honesty – that Nobuteru Uchida and his quartet of young actors catch brilliantly. If only for a few split seconds. There are moments that shine through the wobbly handheld camera shifting focus and focal length that make a simple (and simplistic) metaphor for the changing relationships of the ménage a quatre that inhabit the closed universe of “Love Addiction.”
These good moments, though, do not add up to much of a film. The opening half hour or so of development are craftily put together, throwing the viewer into a world that’s all on edge. The final hour devolves into a mess of narrative and cinematic clichés with ever escalating faux emotional highs and a complete deflation in lieu of any meaningful catharsis.
From the furious whip pans and constant reframing of emotional spaces to the actorly improv and mining of dangerous psychological ground, “Love Addiction’s“ no-budget look at the fucked up love lives of a generation owes its existence to John Cassavetes. All well and good. Unfortunately Uchida’s direction, though on the surface giving the actors room to explore new depths, ultimately leaves them hanging. There’s an awful lot of cryin’ and emotin’ but it just goes nowhere.
There is one moment where Shigehisa (Hiroyuki Sato), the two-timing jerk of the story tells his girlfriend, Yukako (Megumi Kato) a long winded story/alibi/lie involving a friend losing a key an how this friend’s girlfriend bicycled two hours in the rain to deliver it. The story goes round and round becoming a revelation of Shige’s manipulations, self-centeredness and his fading interest in the needy Yukako. It’s reminiscent of the sort of riff Ben Gazzara or Cassavetes himself often pulled off.
Love Addiction opens on Yukako and Shigehisa. It’s obvious there’s trouble in their neck of the woods. He’s all taciturn. She’s wimpily prying, denying, trying to find out about the other woman in his life. She finds the telltale sign, a rhinestone encrusted artificial fingernail among the contents of his pocket. Meanwhile, Noboru (Kosuke Takaki), who’s just trying to get laid – though he’s mixing it up in his mind with love – is obsessed with Saeko (Momoko Maekawa), she of fake fingernails. She, however, just wants to be friends. She’s got larger fish to fry in Shige’s bed. To compound it all, they all work at the same place. Small and large revelations happen. Yukako lets it all out to Noboru – and vice versa. Noboru: “This is the first time I’ve ever talked about myself.” They have a one-night stand in a love hotel. Sometime later the big confrontation happens in the cramped confines of Shige’s apartment. Yukako walks in on Shige and Saeko making love. A lot of lies and denials from all sides twists the trio in a back and forth ballet of neediness, callousness and confusion. In the meantime Noboru comes by to have it out with Shige. The accusations, denials, lies and some sort of truth telling lead to the final emotional explosion (proceeded by an emetic catharsis) in which Noboru grabs a knife and attempts to kill Shige. An escape and a chase take them out of their cramped citified environment, through a shrine, into a copse and out into fields. The illogic of this change of physical space, despite artistic intent, works too obviously and rather poorly on an emotional or symbolic level. Noboru gives up on his murderous mission and has a heart to heart with Saeko (still no nookie, though) and Yukako (after long and desperate searching) finds Shige. Love addict that she is, she’s ready to jump back into the fire with her final lines, “I haven’t seen your face in a while. Now I remember.”
Though the ensemble is largely left adrift, with allowances for only big emotions and boundless tears, Hiroyuki Sato as Shige, shines in a perverse way. Holding it close to the vest he creates a rather despicable character, that doesn’t necessarily hold a charm, but rather an attraction. On the surface, he’s cool and strangely alluring. Though he’s ostensibly normal, he’s got a bit of rough trade to him. But as he sheds his exterior, a true miscreant emerges. He’s the one character that doesn’t fall into stereotype. Yukako, ever mistreated and unloved, remains faithful. Saeko is all self-centered kawaii-ness – the perfect vapid girl of ever otaku’s imagination. Noboru is the nerd in need of true love. He’ll never get it.
One can look at through the history of cinema and find deeper, better films that tackle the complexities and issues of mad love. Jean Eustache’s “The Mother and the Whore” or Cassavetes’ “Love Streams” are a couple of benchmarks that come to mind. One cannot fault Uchida’s attempt at working the theme, but unfortunately, “Love Addiction’s” small and insignificant glimpses into the workings of the heart don’t add up to a cogent big picture.