Review: Kakera (Ando, 2009)

Japanese title: カケラ

Director: Ando Momoko

Info links: AsianMediaWiki, IMDb, Trailer

Rating: ★★★★½

“Men and women are all humans.  It’s only hard when we categorize ourselves … Maybe we don’t need to define ourselves as man or woman.  Maybe [the determination of our sex at conception] is as arbitrary as whether the zoo was open or not.  What we do know is that in the beginning all humans start out being women.”

Kakera: A Piece of our Life is an emotionally-charged independent film about the budding relationship between two women.  Haru (Mitsushima Hikari, of Love Exposure fame) is a quiet, odd-ball college student dealing with a boyfriend who is with another woman and only uses Haru for sex.  Riko (Nakamura Eriko) is an enthusiastic, excitable prostheticist who prefers women “because they are soft and cuddly,” as she states in one scene.  They meet quite randomly–in a coffee shop; Haru is drinking her mocha and ends up with a cute chocolate mustache.  Riko is immediately smitten.

I must begin with the performances.  Both actresses are absolutely phenomenal.  Mitsushima Hikari is great, as usual, playing an off-beat yet quiet character.  This is a departure for her, as she is usually the loud one.  As director Ando Momoko has stated, Mitsushima was willing to do anything she asked, even excitedly growing out her facial and underarm hair.  Mitsushima’s character, Haru, is portrayed as the opposite of attractive–shown going the bathroom, wearing strange clothes, with facial and armpit hair, etc.  This obviously upset her fan club, as the heads of it attended the first screening and, according to Ando, came up to her furious about how Mitsushima was portrayed (she used to be of the pure, cute, cuddly, idol-type).  I give major props to Mitsushima for courageously committing to her characters and her acting career.

Nakamura Eriko is impressive as well.  I had previously seen her in the film Shikyu no Kioku (2007), where she played a quiet, cute young college student in a small role.  She, like Mitsushima, reversed her typical character-type in Kakera, playing the tough, loud, enthusiastic Riko.  I don’t know if I’ve ever seen a performance quite like Nakamura’s; she makes you feel her happiness, her excitement along with her.  There is also a haunting, brilliant short performance by Katase Rino as a depressed, lonely older woman in need of a prosthetic breast.

Kakera is Ando Momoko’s first film, and she is definitely a young talent to watch out for.  The daughter of Okuda Eiji and sister of Ando Sakura, cinema is definitely a family affair–though she prefers to do things her own way.  Her camera is varied, delivering many important still shots, slow tracking shots, extreme close ups of faces, and an intimate styling when needed.  It ends up as a refreshing experience.  The visuals are deliberately dull and monotone, with certain colors popping out for special effect.  James Iha of Smashing Pumpkins contributes to the score and delivers fitting, quiet, atmospheric, and progressive music that highlights the light, bouncy, and uplifting yet sometimes sad, though never dark, quality of the film.

There are both some extremely powerful and totally irrelevant scenes included in the film.  One scene in particular is striking in its use of background imagery to deliver an emotionally tied message.  Haru had decided to tell her boyfriend that they were over, but after delivering the message falls over and lands face-first on the floor.  She rolls over and says “I’m done,” then lays there and allows the guy to have his way with her as she hums mindlessly to herself.  Meanwhile, a war documentary is playing in the background, guns firing and bombs exploding.  This emphasizes the turmoil and chaos both in Haru’s mind and in the scene as a whole.  Another scene, where a thrown bottle transforms into a two-headed pigeon, is completely irrelevant and removes the viewer from the reality of the film–especially with the cheap CG used.

Kakera is a deeply engrossing and thought-provoking film that seeks to show that gender doesn’t matter when it comes to love, it’s about finding yourself and looking at the person inside.  Haru and Riko’s relationship is a normal one, they experience things that any “normal” couple would experience.  Just as Riko fills up prosthetic pieces, she also fills up Haru’s heart and helps her move through her rocky relationship with her boyfriend; however, they are not immune to typical relationship woes.  The actresses had fun making this movie–you can tell because they infect you as well, causing wide smiles to magically appear on your face.

I’ll leave you with a little quote of wisdom from the film: “Favorite foods are better eaten a little at a time.”  Remember it.

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