If the gripping title isn't reason enough to make you watch this film, then the appearance of Masatoshi Nagase should surely suffice to spark some interest. Still doubting ... then hopefully the following review will make you change your mind, because notwithstanding its faults Gelatin Silver, Love is a film that deserves to be seen.
Kurigami is one of those photographers turned director. After seeing Corbijn's Control not too long ago I became a bit weary of those, but Kurigami is clearly playing in a different league. For his first feature film he explores familiar territory as photography plays a big rather part (Gelatin Silver appears to be a reference to black & white photography), but he applies this familiarity to bring something new to the world of film.
Gelatin Silver, Love is cyberpunk cinema without the cyber and without the punk. What it did inherit is the extreme fascination for tiny details. Kurigami isn't ashamed to dwell on them resulting in a film that's more visual than it is narrative. It will take a while before the viewer can figure out what the hell is happening and where Kurigami is leading you, but that time is happily spent enjoying other things.
The story starts when Nagase takes on a new job. He is a photographer by profession, but bills have to be paid, so he spends the rest of his time as a stalker for hire. Up in his little flat he is asked to observe a girl and tape her every action inside. Not much happens until Nagase starts to notice a couple of unusual patterns in her behavior. Before he knows it, he is enthralled by the girl and tries to track her down when she leaves the house.
Visually there is plenty to enjoy. Kurigami's love for details translates itself to plenty of close-ups, worn-down settings and a meticulous use of color. He has a little more trouble when he ventures into uncontrolled settings (the scenes outside featuring a bigger cast) but most of the film is kept small and intimate. Add to that a nice and dreamy visual flow with little to no sharp edits or manic camera work and you have a very pleasing, controlled and accomplished looking film.
Wish I could say the same thing about the soundtrack, sadly Kurigami falls short here. He uses a large blend of different styles, overshadowed by the most atrocious 80s-like sounding guitar solos. A recurring theme I didn't really understand as it effectively destroys the atmosphere in a couple of scenes, especially in the beginning of the film. There are some electronic tracks too, though the processed sounds of the ambient track didn't convince, nor did the fabrication between IDM and industrial a bit later on. Gelatin Silver, Love could've been a masterpiece, but the score prohibits it from being truly magnificent.
The acting on the other hand deserves some extra praise. Nagase is cool as always, sporting a dark and somewhat impenetrable attitude. The man still knows how to pick his films. He acts opposite of Rie Miyazawa, who, with the little she has, does a fine job too. I was a bit surprised by the addition of Koji Yakusho, not someone I'd have expected in this film, but he teams up pretty nicely with Nagase. He doesn't have too many lines or scenes but succeeds in making the best of them.
Retelling the story would be missing the point. It's one of those typically Japanese tales of obsession, with a strange focus on eating eggs and paid killings. Little details that will matter a lot as the film progresses. It's a little weird, it's a little different, but it's fun and pretty intriguing. If you can go along with it at least.
Kurigami makes a pretty good impression with his first film. Visually Gelatin Silver, Love is almost perfect with strong use of color, solid camera work and plenty of close-up work creating a tight atmosphere. The story is intriguing, the acting top notch, the only real problem is the horrible soundtrack. It might sound like a little thing, but in a film like this, almost solemnly depending on atmosphere, it can be a real killer. Still worth checking out though as there is plenty to like.