15:00 - 11th July 2015, by David West

Be My Baby

Starting at a party and unfolding over the weeks that follow, Be My Baby is a study of sex and relationships in modern Japan, explored through the tangled web woven by nine 20-something residents of Tokyo. The movie was shot on a micro budget of less than US$10,000 over a period of just four days by filmmaker Hitoshi One and his youthful cast. Director One looks set for big things – his next project is the live action version of manga best seller Bakuman, due out in Japan this October, so no doubt we’ll be seeing more of his work over here soon.

Be My Baby requires some patience at the start. The opening party scene introduces a lot of characters in a short space of time, and it doesn’t help that everyone talks all at once, like an even more cluttered version of a Robert Altman dinner scene. But characters begin to emerge from the noise and One gets a lot of help from his cast, who manage to make their often unpleasant characters if not sympathetic then highly compelling. Koji (Kenta Niikura) is a manipulative bully who delights in playing on the insecurities of everyone around him, although he reserves his nastiest mind games for his unlucky girlfriend Tomoko (Naoko Wakai). Takashi (Daisuke Sawamura), who desperately wants to be cool, falls for Kaori (Chihiro Shibata) who used to date his flatmate Yuta (Takumi Matsuzawa). Satomi (Aya Kumitake) is worried her boyfriend Naoki (Yuki Ueda) is cheating on her, while socially awkward Osamu (Kenta Enya) is hiding his relationship with Yuko (Yumi Goto) because his friends think she’s ugly. It’s all thoroughly dysfunctional and One paints an unflattering of a generation going nowhere. It’s not the accepted image of Japan as a nation of hard-working salarymen. The characters are either unemployed or working part-time, with more than one of the guys leeching off the income of their girlfriends who lack the courage to be alone. Crammed into tiny, one-room apartments, they dress and behave like teenagers desperate to avoid growing up.

Given the limited resources that went into the production, there’s nothing fancy on the tech side. The film looks like it was shot with available light and a lot of the characters only have one set of clothes, but the performances more than make up for such minor offences. The running time could stand to take a little off the top, but director One is careful to build emotional peaks and dips into the long dialogue exchanges so the dramatic landscape is much larger than the cramped Tokyo apartments. Some scenes make for uncomfortable viewing, particularly whenever Koji goes about his cruel business of tormenting Tomoko for his own idle amusement, but neither the women nor the men emerge from the story untarnished. One’s portrait of the social and sexual mores of modern Japan is unflattering in the extreme, suggesting a generation riddled by low esteem, low expectations, and incapable of any pursuit other than their own selfish desires.

While it’s never as emotionally savage as something like Neil LaBute’s In The Company Of Men, Be My Baby belongs to that same stream of independent, provocative filmmaking. Don’t be put off by the confusing start; if you stick with these characters then they’ll tell you their dirty secrets. And they certainly have a lot of them to tell.
SCORE: 4/5
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