7 years

Kotoko (2011) – Film Review

★★★★✰ Shin'ya Tsukamoto brings us Kotoko, an over-powering and emotionally fraught horror and forces us to watch a person's mind fall apart.

Poor Kotoko. She’s got a baby and she just can’t cope. Luckily this is a film and she is an actress – her real name is Cocco, and she is a Japanese singer – but it’s still harrowing. Shin’ya Tsukamoto, the director of Tetsuo and Tetsuo II among others, brings this completlely over-powering and emotionally fraught psychological horror and forces us to watch this person’s mind fall apart.

If Tsukamoto were a doctor, he’d say that she’s suffering from paranoid schizophrenia. She describes it as “seeing double”, meaning that people she encounters in the street appear twice; one normal, smiling, usually enjoying looking at her ‘kawaii’ baby, and another that is threatening, staring at her, and eventually runs right at her. This results in an attack, which means that she is forced to move from neighbourhood to neighbourhood.

Of course, this whole series of events is moot, as Tsukamoto is never absolutely clear on what is actually happening at any one time. There’s repeated reports of a serial killer on the loose around Tokyo that seem to be leading to somewhere but, like the rest of the film, tails off into nothingness in the disappointing third act. She starts a mutually destructive relationship with Tanaka, a successful writer (Tsukamoto himself) that also may or may not have actually happened at all; there’s clues throughout the film, mostly surrounding her sister’s elysian dwelling, situated off a country road and where her son Daijiro spends a good portion of the film.

Cocco’s performance in this film is completely without vanity, and she spits and dribbles mucus all over the place without batting an eyelid. Her bleeding histrionics grate but they are integral to the aesthetic of the film, showing the realities of life with mental illness. The many scenes of self-harm and utter mental anguish are there partly to shock, and partly to show that yes, this is how some people live, and they need help and hope. What hope Kotoko does have is sabotaged by her own inner demons.

Tsukamoto would have done well to remove the final ten minutes of this film, as it spoils what was up to then a pretty great film. This minor quibble aside, Kotoko is a very meaningful, torturous, but worthwhile film that acheives much, with very little.

Best line: “You’re trespassing.”
Best scene: The scene in which Tanaka walks in on Kotoko cutting. Bleak, yet funny.

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