Monday, July 07, 2008

Japan Cuts: Kisaragi

Fandom can be weird. Take it from someone working for a science fiction publisher. Grown men visiting a chat room dedicated to a dead pin-up and would-be pop star are even creepier, yet they indeed make up the five person cast of characters in Yuichi Sato’s Kisaragi, screening as part of the Japan Cuts Festival of New Japanese Film.

Miki Kisaragi specialized in cute. Her photo shoots were innocent tease and her musical performances, such as they were, consisted of pure bubblegum. On the one year anniversary of her tragic and apparently inexplicable suicide, five of her oddest fans meet offline for the first time, at a memorial in her honor. However, one of the unfab five, convinced Kisaragi was murdered, plans to use the event to reveal the results of his investigation in an Agatha Christie style “I-suppose-you’re-wondering-why-I’ve-brought-you-all-together” group confrontation.

Needless to say, things do not go exactly according to plan. The truth proves to be quite slippery in Kisaragi, but it is not for a lack of revelations. Each member of the quintet seems to correspond to a certain stereotype of fandom, including the obsessive collector, the older loner, and the overweight goof. However, each has secret connection to their idol, which is revealed during the chaotic night.

Despite essentially being a five-character one-set film, Sato keeps Kisaragi from feeling stagey. His clever shots of Miki (played by Kanako Sakai in a thankless role if ever there was one) show her only in photos and flashbacks, keeping her face out of focus until the very end. It is a nice effect, maintaining a sense of mystery for the object of their affections, but it is undermined by the film’s trailer. (Also, do not leave during what appear to be the first set of credits.)

The clever script by Ryota Kosawa offers some shrewd observations on fandom and effectively straddles the mystery and comedy genres. The cast is strong, particularly Shun Oguri as the earnest collector known as lemoto, and Yusuke Santamaria, as the severe older fan, using the name of Yuji Oda, a Japanese leading man and recording star, as his online handle.

While Kisaragi is at times quite dark, it has a sentimental heart. Like its characters, there is actually nothing cynical about it. It debuts at Japan Cuts on Wednesday and closes the Festival on Sunday.