A Woman Is Heard
- Original title
- Kikareta Onna
- Japanese title
- Running time
- 84 minutes
- 22 March 2007
by Jamie Morris
I have always thought that one of the hallmarks of Japanese cinema is its portrayal of the mundane or daily fabric of life as essential and poetic. The omission of ordinary and everyday moments in cinema, most notably in Hollywood films, serves to amplify a film's hyper reality but ignores the rich texture we enjoy in intimate documentaries. I'm not simply referring to idyllic moments with green tea and tatami, nor is this any revelation; but are people escaping explosions (always the same shot) really more interesting than a character eating a sandwich or traversing foot traffic in a crowded city?
Vladimir Nabokov, in explaining his book Lolita, felt the word "reality" was the only word that meant absolutely nothing without quotation marks. He also explained that if you are truly working in the realm of pornography, as his book was oft mischaracterized as doing, then you must never stray from its form (i.e. no lyrical humor) nor allow your audience to enter the world of the "real."
The definition of "reality" or "real" in cinema, as in all media, is ever changing as fact blends with fiction. Even the most mainstream of features can include location shots with real people or include archival footage and utilize non-actors. Masashi Yamamoto, whose most famous works, such as Carnival of the Night (Yami no Carnival, 1982) and Junk Food (1997), combine both documentary elements and fictional narrative to produce stunning but shocking portraits of Tokyo's veiled angst. These films remind us that the average person, sitting quietly on the train next to us, may have a completely different reality, one that we never imagined, and lives in a "Tokyo" we could never have access to. But we do, thanks to Yamamoto's voyeuristic romp - and I do mean romp because it can get rough in this director's urban playground, one riddled with gangsters, junkies, and sexual predators.
Although he admits wanting to portray reality or real life, he ultimately defines his goal as "not-fake" or "natural" and shies away from stylistic labels such as Direct Cinema and cinéma vérité. The mood can change from serene to schizophrenic in the blink of a frame; and you can't help but wince while wondering where you were just a few moments earlier.
His latest work, A Woman is Heard, is billed as an "Erotic-Pop-Suspense-Thriller" and stars the famous porn actress Sora Aoi. It is impossible to know what the actual genre is - another term Yamamoto has little use for. It is a foray into reality and sex. Or a scoff at the idea that these can co-exist at all. The film, actually shot on DV, centers around Ryo (Keita Ono) and his next door neighbor, Satsuki (Aoi), whose every movement and conversation Ryo can hear. He even installs electronic listening devices. Can you imagine soapy shower scenes? Ryo does and eventually tracks down (stalks) Satsuki outside of their apartment setting. In the world of stalkers however, Ryo is a benign amateur and we soon learn who the real stalker is. Yuta, her lover, uses a ludicrously high-pitched voice disguiser and quickly arrives at Satsuki's place to "protect" her from the guy behind the lewd phone calls. These conjugal visits may seem painfully obvious to the viewer but the erotic and vulnerable heroine is of course, ever grateful. The story itself unfolds in a linear but not so obvious way: boy meets girl, boy stalks girl, boy saves girl from "bad guy" - and though this seemingly standard approach might alienate fans of Yamamoto, there is a great amount of tongue-in-cheek and perhaps (shall I venture?) comedic poke at the porn industry.
For those of you who go to a film with the kind of expectation built up by personally following a unique director's career - don't. For Yamamoto fans and Sora Aoi fans: this is a film that is probably not his best (or hers?) but contains unique moments of, and investigations into, erotic fantasy and the daft "love story" as we know it. As with other examples of Yamamoto's work the film is ever conscious and flirts with the "reality" it creates, but there is a sense that these characters aren't the bored disaffected youth of his earlier work. They actually want something.
Interview with Masashi Yamamoto
Why did you make this film? It's so different from your earlier work, shot on DV and more standard in structure.
As you know, it takes so long to shoot on film and I have been researching and preparing for my next, bigger project. I wanted to make something more quickly and of course I wanted to work. DV is very easy and quick. So this project was an opportunity to do that while focusing on the story and dialogue, which is what I will be more concerned with in the future.
Do you think that fans of your earlier work will be confused or disappointed by what seems like a more conventionally styled film?
I wouldn't know about that. In this film as with many others, I have always included aspects of simple life, but with some of my "poison" injected into it. From that point of view it isn't all that different.
What exactly is an "Erotic-Pop-Suspense-Thriller?"
It was created by him [pointing at the executive of production company Transformer] for the marketing. [The producer explains - oddly - that the film's target is a "younger audience" hence the word Pop.]
And why did you decide on the casting of Sora Aoi?
That was decided by the production side.
Were you happy about that?
Yes, because she was very nice and I got a good feeling about her acting, which I thought was pretty good.
This is one of the first films I have seen where the heroine has sex with the "bad guy" before the hero gets her...
Yeah I don't believe in "good guys" or "bad guys," it's just my opinion but there are only people we like or don't like - this is a very different thing.
Using an AV star, did you want to vamp up the sex scenes? Because it seemed very heavy on the sex, almost soft porn.
I don't really like sex scenes. Once or twice is enough after that it becomes boring.
Are there any other films about Tokyo that you like?
I don't really know any...
What about "Lost In Translation?" You saw that?
I hate that! Sophia is cute, very cute. I shot in New York, but I lived there and went to many places and saw the Bronx and Brooklyn - many places - and many kinds of people. I went to Black bars and Hispanic bars, I met junkies as well. After that I shot there. But Sophia, I don't know what the hell she was doing in Tokyo, she only saw salarymen and the face of it. The movie was very superficial - maybe she was just a playgirl while she stayed here. I met her, but if I had known her well I could have shown her more interesting subjects. The film was too cute!
What's next then? What's the bigger project you are preparing for?
The title isn't set yet, but it's called JAP for now. Some Japanese people were left in China after WWII and retuned to reclaim their Japanese citizenship, but they couldn't speak the language and so they and their children encountered problems. So there's a love story about a guy in the Chinese mafia and an office lady. I just finished the script. The film will be more centered on the story and a much bigger production with some 80 cast members.
Why this change in style?
I want to try new things, for me its new and a challenge, but it's not really to do with style. Having a style is very boring, very conservative. Some directors make for example a film called "X" and then they make X1 and X2 or X-something but it's always "X." There will always be part of me in my films but what's called the "style" will always change.