JAPAN CUTS 2011: TORSO Review

Dustin Chang, Contributing Writer
One might wonder that whether we need yet another film about a blow up sex doll, especially one coming from the long time Hirokazu Kore-Eda's cinematographer Yutaka Yamasaki. Not that Kore-Eda's approach in Air Doll was in any way sensationalistic, but Yamasaki's Torso is neither an over the top titillating sex comedy nor a whimsical fantasy about an inanimate semen receptacle coming to life. It's rather a quiet character study deeply rooted in realism.

Hiroko (Makiko Watanabe) is a thirty something office worker and by all account, a cold fish. She seems quite satisfied with her single woman status. Her interactions with people including her younger half-sister Mina (Love Exposure's Sakura Ando) are curt and distant. She declines invitations to the night outings by the men-hungry coworkers at the office. With no makeup and her scant wardrobe in shambles, she doesn't seem to try very hard even though she's not unnoticeable- with her black rimmed glasses and her hair tightly held back, she can pass as a sexy librarian. But she has a secret: every night, she inflates her male blowup torso, takes bath and snuggles up in bed with it. As the film progresses, we realize that this inflatable object is more than just a sex toy.

The tension rises when Mina moves in to Hiroko's tiny apartment after a fight with her abusive boyfriend Jiro (with whom Hiroko has a history with) and declares that she is pregnant. Forever a pesky little sister, Mina accuses her introverted older sister of ruining her life by introducing the womanizing brut to her. There is a strong sibling rivalry and complicated family dynamics at play. Their mother favors Mina and hates Hiroko for all her late husband's misdeeds. "When people die, they all become saints," mother replies, effectively cutting off Hiroko's reason for hating her dead stepfather and not showing up at his funeral. 

There is a funny beach getaway scene involving ecstatic Hiroko and her headless, limbless boyfriend in a Speedo that ends in skinny dipping. It's the first time we see her smile and giggle like a little schoolgirl. She seems to find the situation just as hilarious as the viewers do.

In Torso, there are no huge confrontations or public embarrassments to speak of. It is inevitable that Mina's snooping in the small apartment would result in finding out her sister's little secret. Would that be a big deal? Would it be less embarrassing if it was a dildo?

Yamasaki handles what could easily have been a sordid material with subtlety and maturity. Fortunately, in his hands, the inflatable object remains to be the inflatable object and never takes over the film as a centerpiece. It is Hiroko's emotional support system, a symbol of comfort against hurtful things. But she can't stay in her comfort zone forever. Torso is an astute observation on the state of arrested development, aided by hand-held, natural photography and pitch perfect acting by Watanabe and Ando.

Torso will be screening as part of Japan Cuts 2011 on Sunday, July 17th You can find out more information at Japan Cuts 2011 website

Dustin Chang is a freelance writer. His musings and opinions of the world can be found at www.dustinchang.com

 
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