2010, colour, 1.85:1, 108 mins
Directed by Hashimoto Naoki (橋本直樹)
By Derek Elley
Sun, 03 April 2011, 23:55 PM (HKT)
Atmospheric, artful tale of female revenge is a bold gamble that largely succeeds. Festivals, plus niche ancillary.
A fishing port, Japan, the present day. A young woman, Mika (Oho Sayoko), clandestinely observes a married couple, Takeda Minoru (Sakuma Hiroshi) and his wife Ryoko (Takizawa Ryoko), and their teenage daughter Ayano (Yagyu Miyu) from outside their home. One day, Mika, dressed as a high-school student, accosts Ayano on her way to school and says she knows a male student who would like to meet her. Ayano accompanies her to the meeting point, and Mika's terrible revenge on Ryoko, her birth mother, begins.
Packing a powerful, atmospheric punch for most its running time, Birthright 臍帯 (2010) is an extreme example of the new breed of artful psycho-horror movies that rely on a carefully orchestrated sense of dread rather than splatter, and which Asian cinema has very much made its own from The Ring リング (1998) onwards. This strong feature debut by HASHIMOTO Naoki 橋本直樹 — founder of production company Wilco, which produced ICHIKAWA Jun 市川準's reflective drama Tony Takitani トニー滝谷 (2004), as well as a director of a couple of shorts — coolly details the terrible revenge by a young woman on the mother who abandoned her at birth. To reveal much more about the plot — other than that it involves the woman kidnapping her half-sister — would spoil the effect, which is totally built on the audience's expectations of what will happen next. As such, it's a film that will only work on a first viewing.
In its highly controlled approach and casual wrong-doing, the movie recalls the opening few minutes of SHIRAISHI Koji 白石晃士's Grotesque グロテスク (2009) before it turned seriously visceral or the sustained sense of dread in the South Korean End of Animal 짐승의 끝 (2010) and A Confession 간증 (2010). The audience knows something awful is about to unfold but has not been made privy to either the protagonist's thoughts (which are held back until almost an hour in) or background (subsequently revealed in a long monologue and flashback). With only three characters involved for most of the time — the young woman, her teenage half-sister and their mother — and a large portion of the film set in a dimly lit warehouse with little dialogue, the movie has an abstract, irreal feel, building tension not only from withholding information from the viewer but also from the fatal nexus now connecting the three main characters. At no point is the outside world involved: no police, hardly even the mother's husband, and no search parties. This is psychological revenge, female-style, hitting at a fellow woman's weakest point.
With its measured close-ups of faces, minimalist plot and style, and long-held tableaux, Birthright is a major stylistic gamble by Hashimoto that largely comes off — especially thanks to YANAGIDA Hiroo 柳田裕男's HD-sourced photography of the dim warehouse interior, which often pushes visibility to its limits. The movie's main weakness is its pay-off which, considering the patience asked of the audience for an hour-and-a-half, is rather conventional. Performances are very much at the service of the camera and director. Apart from a brief section when pretending to be a high-school student, 23-year-old lead actress OHO Sayoko 於保佐代子 (The Summer of Stickleback ハリヨの夏 (2006)) is pretty much a blank slate, and TAKIZAWA Ryoko 滝沢涼子 (Angel Dust エンジェル・ダスト (1994), Boy's Choir 独立少年合唱団 (1999)) ditto. The most involving, and emotionally demonstrative, performance comes from actress-model YAGYU Miyu 柳生みゆ (Stay ＳＴＡＹ (2007)), 20, as the teenage daughter caught up in a deadly plan in which she is merely an innocent tool.
The Japanese title means Umbilical Cord.
ContactSales: Eleven Arts, California (firstname.lastname@example.org)
Premiere: Tokyo Film Festival (Japanese Eyes), 24 Oct 2010. Theatrical release: TBA.
Presented by Wilco (JP), Breath (JP), Thanks Lab. (JP). Produced by Wilco (JP). Executive producers: Hashimoto Naoki, Kano Yoshinori, Kawabata Motoo. Producer: Hashimoto Naoki.
Script: Hashimoto Naoki, Inagaki Kiyotaka. Photography: Yanagida Hiroo. Editing: Hashimoto Naoki, Yamanaka Takao. Music: Kozu Hiroyuki. Art direction: Inoue Shinpei. Costume design: Miyamoto Mari. Sound: Okamoto Tatsuhiro, Sato Tadaharu.
Cast: Oho Sayoko (Mika, the young woman), Yagyu Miyu (Takeda Ayano), Takizawa Ryoko (Hasegawa Naoko, their mother), Sakuma Hiroshi (Takeda Minoru, Naoko's husband), Oda Miori, Noda Maho, Kojima Fuyuho, Sakamoto Yuichi, Sato Tomoyuki, Fujikawa Toshiki, Masuki Ako, Katsumata Sachiko, Fujima Miho, Takahashi Ippei, Fukami Motoki.