Oh, Reel-y: Abductors, Kittens, & Loan Sharks

Rebirth
2011

Rebirth crushed the 35th Annual Japan Academy Awards this past March, winning 11 awards, including Best Picture, Best Director, Best Screenplay, Best Starring Actress, and Best Support Actress, along with a bevy of technical awards in categories like cinematography, lighting, sound, and editing. It deserved every accolade.

Plus, any movie that manages successfully to incorporate both John Mayer and Beach House into its soundtrack must be doing something right.

Rebirth is a startling take on motherhood and family. The plot of the film follows two strands centered around a character named Erina. As an infant, Erina was abducted and raised during her toddler years by her father’s jilted lover. As a adult, Erina is having an affair of her own with a married man, grappling with a lost childhood she doesn’t remember and an emotional distance from her birth parents. Her despondency is only interrupted by a strangely persistent and awkward writer who wants to research her story, who knows something of her mysterious past.

Rebirth is a gorgeous film with incredible, heartbreaking performances from the actresses who play Erina, her birth mother, and her abductor. It opens with devastating confessionals from the latter two characters before interweaving the narratives of Erina’s adult life and her time with her abductor. The film showcases the devastation the crime wreaked on the lives of everyone involved, with an emotional complexity that neither moralizes nor provides easy answers for the audience. It is powerful and poignant and a must-see.

***

Rent-A-Cat
2011

Rent-A-Cat is catnip for those addicted to kitten videos on the internet. While it seems rooted in the familiar cat lady cliche, the movie is thoroughly original, telling the quirky, episodic tale of Sayako, a young woman who pines for marriage while living in a house filled with cats, with whom she has a preternatural affinity. To make ends meet, she wanders around her city, renting cats to strangers. Despite its offbeat sense of humor and breeziness, Rent-A-Cat is a strangely affecting meditation on loneliness and a unique slice of cinema.

***

Ushijima the Loan Shark
2012

Ushijima the Loan Shark is a satire in the vein of Bret Easton Ellis’s American Psycho: it’s a cynical and sadistic portrayal of a modern world gone mad with capitalism and the dehumanization, objectification, and commodification of its inhabitants. Ushijima the Loan Shark is based on a popular Japanese manga series and contains a rogues gallery of unsavory types, from the titular soulless loan shark to sadistic gangsters to torturous psychopaths. It fetishizes darkness and violence for their own sakes, and it disturbingly distills humanity into the broadest of stereotypes: the men in this world seek only pleasure and financial gain and are blind to the suffering of others, while the women derive any personal worth from what they can wring from their bodies as sex objects. Unlike Ellis’s oeuvre, there is a small spark of heart and humanity in the midst of all the depravity, but it hardly feels earned. And like Ellis, the filmmakers are too busy being edgy, pandering to the audience’s sadism, and confusing cruelty with moral complexity to offer a convincing portrait of how to live in such a bleak and materialistic world.

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