The Movie Waffler Film Maudit 2.0 2021 Review - WOMAN OF THE PHOTOGRAPHS | The Movie Waffler

Film Maudit 2.0 2021 Review - WOMAN OF THE PHOTOGRAPHS

woman of the photographs review
A struggling Instagram model befriends a mute photographer.

Review by Eric Hillis

Directed by: Takeshi Kushida

Starring: Hideki Nagai, Itsuki Otaki, Toshiaki Inomata, Toki Koinuma

woman of the photographs poster

What a time to be a young woman with image issues. A multitude of apps now allow you to post pictures online and be immediately greeted with praise or derision, reducing yourself to a form of online livestock to be rated, "liked" and shared by an anonymous crowd. Of course, the magic of image editing apps allows you to cheat and manipulate your looks to better fit how you wish to be viewed. Don't like that liver spot on your cheek? Simply scrub it away with Photoshop. Wish your cheekbones were higher? Your wish is but a few mouse clicks away.

woman of the photographs review

In writer/director Takeshi Kushida's feature debut, Woman of the Photographs, seemingly mute photographer Kai (Hideki Nagai) pays his rent by manipulating his clients' photos in just such a manner. A lonely female customer (Toki Koinuma) wishing to snare a husband on a dating site has him touch up her photo to such a degree that she no longer resembles herself, but she reasons that if a man will fall for her falsely portrayed image he'll be too far gone to walk away when he meets her in person. An elderly divorced businessman (Toshiaki Inomata) requests Kai to take a childhood photo of the the young daughter he hasn't seen in years and create an approximation of how she might now look as an adult. It's purely guesswork on Kai's part, but it pleases the businessman, and as he admits himself, "A good lie can make people happy."

Are the delusions of the lonely woman and the businessman merely harmless self-deceptions or something more troubling? Woman of the Photographs enters darker territory in its exploration of image-consciousness when Kai encounters an injured young woman in the woods, Instagram model Kyoko (Itsuki Otaki). Every day Kyoko takes a meticulously staged picture of herself which she posts online to the adulation of the unseen horde, and makes a living through sponsorship from companies that wish to be associated with her beauty. Today her photo has backfired and she's fallen from a tree, leaving nasty scars on her cheek and collar bone.

woman of the photographs review

When she learns of Kai's photography and image manipulation skills, Kyoko befriends the shy shutterbug, even moving into his cramped home. The photos he takes of Kyoko, sans her scars, don't seem to have the effect with her fans she was hoping for, and she begins to lose her sponsorship deals. When Kyoko decides to leave her scars untouched, she suddenly finds a new audience who applaud her for refusing to present a false image. But Kyoko takes the wrong lesson from this, and begins to manipulate not her image, but her body itself, ensuring her scars fester rather than heal.

Imagine a collaboration between David Cronenberg and Hirokazu Koreeda and you'll have a sense of the curious tone of Woman of the Photographs. Kushida takes the body-horror and social commentary of the former and mixes in the observant gentleness of the latter. The result is a movie that keeps us on our toes throughout, with no idea of where Kushida is taking us. Initially I feared this new filmmaker might be leading us into the territory of his shock merchant compatriot Takashi Miike, but he has more on his mind than grossing us out. Kyoko's harmful treatment of her body isn't meant to make us wince physically but rather emotionally and intellectually, causing us to reflect on the lengths many young women will go to in order to find fleeting online fame. We aren't revulsed by Kyoko's actions, rather we're sympathetic to her plight, and ultimately, is it any more harmful than some of the extreme diets models are known to engage in?

woman of the photographs review

Kushida never quite pulls us into the relationship between Kai and Kyoko in a convincing manner, and it's nowhere near as romantic as he likely intends it to be. Similarly misjudged is the film's sound design, which elevates every little detail in the manner of a nature documentarian making an insect's steps as loud as those of an elephant. It soon becomes gimmicky and intrusive - we get the point you're making Mr. Kushida, but dial it down a little. On the whole though, this is an impressive debut that suggests Kushida may well be the next Japanese auteur of note.

Woman of the Photographs
screens as part of Film Maudit 2.0 2021 from January 12th - 24th. Click here for details.

2021 movie reviews