Be My Baby (Koi no uzu)
Dir: Hitoshi One
As any reasonable person knows, the English title of this micro-budget Japanese comedy refers to the classic song by incredible 1960’s popsters The Ronettes. The songs famous boom boom-boom tsh! drumbeat is practically the only piece of music in the film, used to soundtrack the transition of time between scenes. The more literal translation of the original Japanese title is The Vortex of Love, and manages to sum up the film far more precisely. This is a film about a group of friends whose love lives have become so entangled and complicated that it becomes farcical; no one ever really knows exactly what’s going on apart from the audience. Even then, it can get kind of tricky.
The film follows nine fashionable twenty-somethings, first seen gathered at a flat party, the whole point of which was to set up shy, klutzy Osamu (Kenta Enya) with the equally awkward Yuko (Yumi Goto), but when Yuko arrives all the men unfairly tag her as “a dog” and the night fizzles out. Osamu ends up going home with Yuko secretly. In fact, once the group goes their separate ways, they covertly appear and re-appear in each others lives over the course of a few weeks, and they all have pretty much one thing on their minds. Only we get to see how delicately choreographed these affairs are, and see how the lies and betrayals begin to stack up to increasingly ludicrous heights.
Directed by Hitoshi One and based on a play by Daisuke Miura, the film alternates between four tiny Tokyo apartments, and the effect is as claustrophobic as it sounds. We never see the outside world, and we hardly ever get to see these characters when they are not thinking or talking about relationships and sex. It’s a deliberately one-sided view of these characters, and the impression we get of them is not always a good one. Most of the men are misogynistic pigs, demanding and demeaning. Yuko and her friend Tomoko (Naoko Wakai) are far too deferential to their boyfriends, and are treated terribly for it. Kaori (Chihiro Shibata) is the one who ‘gets about’ the most, but is the most slyly aware of everyone’s real personalities. There’s a dark satiric edge on display; the film knows its characters are selfish, shallow people. While the men are eventually shown to be the needy, pathetic people they are, after a week or so it’s clear that they’ll never change. It’s both funny for its authenticity and slightly excruciating.
At just over two hours, it’s a long time to spend with nine people in such cramped spaces. The script is sharp and daring enough to be interesting, and the performances are spot-on, but the feeling of enclosure and voyeuristic discomfort makes it hard to recommend fully.