Be My Baby
Be My Baby film Review
There’s a lot that to say about Hitoshi One’s Be My Baby. You could lavish it with the praise that it so richly deserves and be done with it. You could also harshly criticise it, and that would be a valid interpretation. Both are perfectly valid, but what they have in common, however, is the fact that no matter which way you look at it there’s no way that you can get away from the fact that its story – the story of young people set truly loose upon the world for the first time away from education or parents – has been done before.
Knowing this, I had to ask myself a fairly simple and very important question: Does Be My Baby add anything to this narrative?
Yes, it does. But, it’s not a ‘good’ thing.
You see, while most western versions of this story involve ‘good’ people – the kind that the audience can get behind and enjoy seeing on screen – who succeed in their struggle to find maturity and independence and become better adults, Be My Baby rejects that idea in that all but two of its characters are childish jerks. And instead of us seeing these people succeed through a touching yet believable story, Be My Baby’s narrative concerns that short time in your life after you’ve finished education, when you’re living alone for the first time with your friend or your lover in a too small abode. Personally, I’d argue that Daisuke Miura’s choice of eschewing any larger narrative gives the film a greater sense of realism and makes the film better, but that’s up to you.
At the beginning of the film, Koji (Kenta Niikura) and Tomoko (Naoko Wakai) , a young couple living in a tiny apartment in Tokyo, are getting ready to host a party for Koji’s friend Osamu (Kenta Tsumuraya), who they hope to set him up with Tomoko’s friend, Kaori (Chihiro Shibata). Osamu’s a very introverted guy, the kind that’s almost a stock character in anime, so you can imagine how well the party goes when Koji and his friend Takashi try to make Osamu appear lively in front of Kaori. From here, the group disperses and the main plot of Be My Baby begins in earnest as we see the effects of the disastrous party have on the guests.as time passes. We learn more about the group, their personalities and their group dynamic. None of it’s pretty – at least four of these characters are abusive to their partners in some way.
This invariably leaves us with two points of discussion. Firstly, the fact that the film has no apparent narrative except the effects of this party on this group of people could leave some people wondering what the film was about. My answer to those people would be that the film is about nothing, at least nothing apparent, and as previously mentioned, it gives the film a greater sense of realism, for just as in life meanings and plots aren’t always readily apparent, so too it could be in film.
Secondly, in such a situation, where most of the characters are so unlikeable, it would be so easy for the audience to fall into darkness induced apathy and just not care about what happens to them. Personally I thought that was the case here. There were a few exceptions of course; not every character in this film is completely irredeemable, but likeable characters are the exception rather than the rule in rule in Be My Baby. That’s not a commentary on the quality of the acting, by the way, because every actor who played a role in this film did so brilliantly, and I feel that the cast very much deserved the Honourable Mention that they received at the 23rd Japan Film Professional Award. The characters were just horrible characters, sort of like in the way that while Hannibal Lecter is Hannibal ‘I bought a packed lunch’ Lecter, Sir Anthony Hopkins is a lovely, well-meaning Welshman who apparently has his friends call him Tony.
On the whole, the cast were well suited to their roles but for me, the real stars of the film were Daisuke Sawamura and Aya Kunitake, who portrayed Takashi and Satomi respectfully. Sawamura was able to infuse every scene that he appeared in with a subtle innocence, a quiet nod to the direction that his character arch will eventually take, and make me really feel for the character despite the fact that I originally despised him. Aya Kunitake, meanwhile, played a character very much on the peripheral of the narrative but never seemed out of focus.
Likewise, the cinematography and directing were excellent for a film with sets smaller than the sets in most Sixth Form Media Studies productions. Camera work stays stationary nearly throughout the film, with (at most) two cameras at fixed angles which created a play-like effect for the viewer. Essentially, I felt as if I were watching a play that had been recorded as opposed to an independent film with a very small budget. There were instances where alternative camera angles were used, but these were always saved for dramatic moments that will have great importance on the overall narrative, such as when one of the characters is cheating on their partner. It’s an extremely effective technique that manages to both save a lot of money and give the film a noticeable and impressive sense of style.
If I have one complaint about Be My Baby, I’d be lying. But, whilst the film does have its flaws, they’re not as big as its successes. The first of these flaws is its subtitles. They were very “British” in the DVD that I watched. There was a lot of British slang, undeniably British swearing and a noticeable reference to Gordon Ramsay. On the whole, this doesn’t take anything away from the film, but it does create a sense of oddity – like going abroad and finding that not only is your hotel an exact double for your home/university/place of work but also that the concierge is an exact double of you. It’s not a bad feeling, but it’s not a good one either.
Secondly, whilst the music was sparse, the drum leitmotif that kept repeating when the time changed was clearly inspired by/plagiarized from either The Jesus and Mary Chain’s Just Like Honey or The Ronettes’ Be My Baby. Either way it’s an excellent way of communicating that dreamlike yet lonely feeling of late night Tokyo, but if I’m going to be honest I would have preferred something much more original. Also, if the drum leitmotif is taken from the song, then the musical director should be ashamed of himself for such a terrible musical pun.
Thirdly, no matter how much I tried, I couldn’t get the DVD to work in any of the DVD/Blu-Ray Players that I usually use. In order to review Be My Baby, I had to find and use the 16-year-old DVD player that I had for Christmas when The Matrix (1999) first came out onto DVD. I don’t know why it happened, I don’t know what effect it had on my interpretation of the film, but that’s no way to begin a relationship with an audience.
Ultimately, Be My Baby is an odd curio. Its cast and crew are clearly highly talented and will do exceedingly well in the future, but its characters are (from my perspective) horrible and I suspect that the music is plagiarized/awfully punned. I would recommend it to others, but I would have to add the addendum that anyone considering watching it must be prepared to view it as a ‘slice of life play’, rather than a film, and to abandon notions of character relatability and expectations in story direction and of character development. If you can do that, then I’m sure you’ll enjoy Be My Baby.