Definitely the biggest surprise of the second day of this year's Udine Far East Film Festival was One Hitoshi's brutally realistic, dialogue-heavy drama Be My Baby
. Shot and edited on a miniscule budget, One's sophomore feature examines the lives of nine seemingly futureless 20-something Tokyoites inhabiting Japan's lower social strata. Be My Baby
delves deeply into a rough and uneducated environment, where still-relatively-young individuals lacking any viable prospects for a fruitful life go about cheating, deceiving and humiliating one another in a horribly brazen manner.
Surprising though it may seem, the film accentuates some striking issues concerning the hardships of the characters' somewhat tragic lives without leaving a few apartments, and in those cramped spaces finds enough emotional baggage and pleasure-driven tension to keep the biting comedy and the conceivable drama alive for 138 minutes. One directs the inexperienced actors with great care and understanding, allowing them to cherish their passion for acting in the form of shamelessly improvised scenes. There's no weak link in the bunch. The ensemble cast plays together wonderfully, delivering many unforgettable and aptly energetic scenes (one resulted in a storm of applause).
Be My Baby opens with a lengthy yet fascinating house party at Koji (Niikura Kenta) and Tomoko's (Wakai Naoko) crash pad. The almost deafening sound of nine voices shouting in unison gives the whole event a unique quality, one that unmistakably intensifies the strange experience - it's like being in the heart of a busy roadway bazaar. Beyond that, the risky technique allows for all the characters to find their own place in the initially puzzling scenario.
Even if one has to concentrate on a single conversation from the few taking place at the same time, the background noise righteously livens up the room. Silence is a rarity and so is the music, but the impossibly fast-paced dialogue more than makes up for that omission.
Even before the delicious Japanese beer takes the guests on bumpy and revealing ride, too many inappropriate and poisonous lines thicken the already inconvenient atmosphere. Hardly a casual get-together, the meeting soon shows its hidden agenda. The overly enthusiastic and friendly Tomoko serves as a matchmaker for her sex-loving colleague Yuko (Goto Yumi) and the gawky Osamu (Enya Kenta), but Koji's foul-mouthed attitude puts an end to the ingenious plan once and for all. Or does it?
A couple of hours later Osamu and Yuko are seen nervously drinking non-alcoholic beverages at his place, but when the initial awkwardness turns into desire fear of loneliness brings them closer together. After one fulfilling night they decide to continue with the shamefully secretive affair. There are sexual escapades aplenty, but Be My Baby rarely sees the characters in bed, rather leaving most of the acts to the viewer's imagination.
Meanwhile, somewhere not far away Koji's desperate friend Yuta (Matsuzawa Takumi) ponders his single life with self-pity, while his roommate Takashi (Sawamura Daisuke) begins to personify a potentially scary side of obsession when his unhealthy passion for the deceitful and bitchy Kaori (Shibata Chihiro) reaches a point of utter ridiculousness due to a series of hopeless, stalker-like phone calls.
Being thoroughly addicted to all kinds of smartphones, younger members of Japanese society tend to stay connected for 24 hours a day. It's only natural that communication via digital tools sometimes overtakes real-life contacts, but in Be My Baby almost every conflict is resolved on a personal level, and often the aftereffects of some of the more temperamental discussions are strangely hair-raising. Without the help of phones - perhaps the only loyal things in the whole film - the characters' descent into emotional hell wouldn't be as effortless and staggering.
It's undeniably loneliness that gets so straightforwardly exposed here, but it would be impossible to consider Japan's youth culture without referring to an alarming trend of staying single for longer time than expected, which unavoidably creates a sort of vicious circle. It's again loneliness (sometimes combined with money troubles) that forces them to jump to bed with similarly lonesome types. Some, like Koji's laid-back brother Naoki (Ueda Yuki), try to justify their actions with ridiculous, pseudo-philosophical logic. Others, like Kaori, think of it as an immoral game that's meant to be played to make life more enjoyable. All things considered, One's protagonists and their problems are just a tip of the iceberg of a deepening issue. If not given enough attention, the situation might get out of control.
It's not an easy task to keep track of all the ongoing affairs, but nevertheless a rewarding one. Literally to blink is to miss the climax of some scenes, which in turn contribute to the final impact that the whole story has on One's unflinchingly delivered satire. In a myriad stories he searches for the essence of a dark and dolefully pitiless reality hidden underneath the seemingly prosperous and perfectly ordered Japanese society.
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