The films of Sogo Ishii (August in the Water, Electric Dragon 80000v) can be quite a handful to track down, but if you are aiming to see the full version of Kyoshin (Mirrored Mind) you better get ready for some serious digging. Then again, once you succeed in tracking it down you're all set to uncover one of Ishii's most impressive and engaging films to date. Kyoshin is Sogo Isii's Vital and then some, so brace yourself for some prime punk-goes-bio action.
I was lucky enough to catch the full version of this film at the now-gone Dejima festival in Amsterdam a couple of years ago. A shorter version of Kyoshin appeared on a Korean short collection DVD (Jeonju Digital Project Box) which is almost impossible to find these days, and with 20 minutes cut from the full version not really worth the trouble if you ask me. It's a shame, because Kyoshin turned out to be my absolute favorite Sogo Ishii film and one definitely worth owning. It's still available as part of the Sogo Ishii Collection Box (The Psychedelic Years), but no subs included and quite expensive indeed.
With Kyoshin Sogo Ishii almost completely abandons his punk background, leaving behind the world of dark alleys, grating soundtracks and extravagant characters, making a full 180 to end up with a mix of Hiroshi Ishikawa's work and Tsuka's Vital. Expect some truly stunning landscape photography coupled with close-to-the-skin introverted drama. It's great to see how these two directors, while still managing to uphold their own unique style alive, keep dancing around each other professionally. In this particular battle though, Ishii is the clear winner for me.
The story is quite simple and nothing more than a hook for the core issue this film tries to deal with. Kyoshin follows a young woman on the brink of a breakdown. Unhappy with her life, she feels alienated by the cold realities of the urban life around her. When she meets up with another woman they decide to end their lives in search of a better existence, but paradise isn't exactly what she hoped for either.
Ishii is a visual film maker and even though he switched the tone of his new film around completely, his love for on-screen beauty didn't leave him. Even better, Ishii is at his absolute best here. Remarkable about Kyoshin is Ishii's demonstration of perfect framing. Especially the second half of the film is filled with landmark shots, both beautiful and strangely abstract. But then Ishii goes on to show the same scene from a different, wider angle and you notice that the shot was made abstract by the perfect framing, not by the setup itself. Best of all is that this is not just some technical showing off but the effect is actually related to the core theme of the film.
The soundtrack is equally beautiful, though it settles itself more in the background. A beautiful, soothing score that feel somewhat familiar to fans of the original Ghost In The Shell soundtrack. It's not a rip-off or shameless copy, but the style of music feels strangely familiar. It works wonders for this film though, so you won't hear me complaining.
As for the acting, I can only say that Miwako Ichikawa gives her all in this film. She makes her character come to life with such natural grace that it's hard to believe she is simply an actress coming to work and doing her job. Mind that this is typical Japanese drama, so don't expect any big emotions or grand sentimental scenes, everything is kept very small and subtle. Absolute perfection that exists on the same level as Ishikawa's films. The secondary cast is small and negligible, the entire film rests on the shoulders of Miwako.
It's probably no coincidence that Sogo Ishii changed his artist name after this film. With that in mind, it's an educated guess that some of the material here is at least partially autobiographical. The character's struggle and transformation throughout the film, the story of an actress trying to come to terms with her own films ... it's difficult to say without any word from the director himself of course, but this film is without a doubt a new beginning for Sogo Ishii as a director.
Even though this is definitely a film with a message and at least some level of symbolism, the film is still pretty straight in its delivery. Kyoshin is not an intellectual film, it's an emotional film that sets out to make the audience feel rather than think. The thinking is reserved for after the movie, when you're watching Ishii's film there's only room for being swamped by the gracious atmosphere. Ishii's message is honest and down-to-earth, though I assume not quite earth-shattering for most people watching it.
Kyoshin is a marvelous film. A perfect score and absolutely stunning visuals transport you to a different world, only to let go of you 60 minutes later, comforted and touched by the film's protagonist's struggle. It's a new step in Ishii's career that will hopefully result in some new work in the near future. Actually finding this gem will be a bitch, but it's definitely worth the trouble. I stopped hoping for a English-friendly DVD release but maybe someone will someone will surprise me, please do. Without a doubt one of the best film's I've ever watched.