By now the name Ryuichi Hiroki (Love On Sunday - Last Words, Kimi no Tomodachi, New Type, Girlfriend: Please Stop The World) should ring a bell. This past year no other director has received this much coverage on my blog. Time to extend the current list of review entries with M, a somewhat atypical Hiroki film that might leave many scratching their heads, even though the film still features many of his trademark elements. An interesting film indeed.
Hiroki started his career as a pinku director, a typical Japanese genre where directors are pretty much given carte blanche as long as they meet the required amount of nudity on screen. It's a weird mixture of erotica and experimental film making that gives birth to rare talents once in a while. With M Hiroki made good use of his former experience working in the pinku genre, handling the film's subject with ease and a much needed level of respect instead of falling for cheap shock.
M is a tale of a housewife looking for a little adventure and some extra cash. She meets up with strangers in motels, but falls into the trap of an eager yakuza who sees great pimping material in the woman. Meanwhile her husband recognizes his wife when browsing porn online, while a young paper delivery boy is trying to cut her ties with the yakuza. That all sounds like a lot of sensationalist nonsense, but there's way more to M than this recap from an apparently simple, sleazy thriller initially suggests.
Hiroki approaches his characters with a lot of respect, giving them room to grow and develop rather than stigmatize them for their actions. He keeps a little more distance compared to his pure drama films, but still manages to create a very naturalistic feel. He removes all the sleaze from the setup and rebuilds his drama with what is left. The result is a pretty interesting clash between two worlds, with no clear winner in sight.
Visually Hiroki remains true to his own particular style. He keeps his camera close to his characters, he aims for a total naturalistic approach but still manages to sneak in some beautiful shots one in a while. His films are never visually striking, but pleasing nonetheless. It's no different with M, though I must say I am starting to become quite curious as to how it would turn out if he paid a little more attention to the visuals.
As for the soundtrack, it's pretty much the same story. Nice, subtle music that goes very well with the film. Occasionally small pieces jump out for a little extra effect, but on the whole the soundtrack is made to support scenes rather than steer them in a particular direction. It's solid, quality stuff, but not very adventurous.
The acting is as impeccable as always. Nao Omori and Tomorowo Taguchi have no trouble whatsoever with their characters, Taguchi in particular is perfect as the creepy yet controlled yakuza pimp. His character was probably the most difficult one to translate to Hiroki's approach but turned out to be the most believable one. Miwon also deserves credit for her character, as she captures the role of housewife and prostitute in a single person quite well. No doubt a rather tricky role to play.
Hiroki keeps a pretty tight balance between drama and thriller elements, leaving the viewer with a certain level of unease while still ensuring a rather comfortable viewing experience. It's a rare talent considering the material this film handles, which usually lends itself for a very different approach. It's not a real first for Hiroki though, he did a similar thing in L'Amant, but he does take it one step further with M.
As for the ending, it would be a shame to spoil it, but safe to say it comes with quite a surprise. Many films go for twist endings these days, but the best examples are the ones that don't even make you realize one is coming up (think Jun Ichikawa's Tokyo Marigold). It adds a level of complexity to the film where a second viewing is almost unavoidable to find out what Hiroki is really aiming for, for now though I'm just happy with the intrigue and the fuzzy feeling it left me with.
If you want another character drama, M might prove to be a too big a challenge and there are plenty of other Hiroki films you could and should be watching instead. But if you like to see him play with his characteristic elements within the realms of other genres then M is going to be a genuine hit. It's a strong film, intriguing and powerful while remaining respectful and subtle.