Fantasia Film Festival’s Woman Of The Photographs is a twisted love story and a psychological horror exploration of repressed trauma, unrealistic beauty standards, misogyny and mental health with delightful elements of body horror thrown is as well
Indeed, Woman Of The Photographs brought to us by director Takeshi Kushida, certainly has the outlandish set-up of a comedic rom-com as mild-mannered mute photographer Kai (Hideki Nagai) searches a forest for insects to photograph but instead finds Kyoko (Itsuki Otaki) an Instagram model falling out of a tree. And in many ways, this is the start of a love story, albeit an unconventional one.
That’s because Kyoko suffers a large laceration to her collarbone, with this imperfection becoming the subject of an unhealthy obsession that touches on body dysmorphia, social media fame and unrealistic beauty standards for both Kyoko and Kai.
Initially Kai, who spends a lot of his time touching up photographs of women, or photos of deceased people, to remove their imperfections and to make them more attractive in a conventional and stereotypical sense initially helps Kyoko with her social media (Instagram) photos by photoshopping out the garish wound on her collarbone. But, once Kyoko makes the decision to keep the wound visible and receives a large amount of praise from her followers, things quickly descend into a psychologically murky area as Kyoko keeps picking at her would to prevent it from healing.
It’s through this central relationship that subverts the typical ‘outgoing and attractive women saves a lonely and emotionally damaged man’ narrative by exposing the insecurities and damaging trauma of the woman and by turning a microscope on the man’s emotionally damaging job of touching up and altering photographs of people, that we explore these timely and relevant issues.
We also see these issues play out to some extent through two sub-plots involving others who have issues with their own body images and both important to the story in their own right, with one providing a hauntingly beautiful pay-off .
Kushida also uses a controlled and understated element of magical realism to delve deeper into the psychology and minds of his leads by showing us occasional dream sequences, the most effective involving the use of Kyoko’s social media post as she obsessively watches the likes on her post revealing her wound climb and climb, with the iconic love heart icon being repetitively projected onto her body. There’s also repetitive imagery of a praying mantis, a reoccurring motif of the film, that, although accurately conveying a meaning and being an apt metaphor is often quite heavy handed and obvious.
The performances from both leads are perfect. Otaki is delightful as the outgoing and friendly Kyoko and does a great job of slowly revealing her neurosis and emotional fragility as well as her compulsive need for reaffirmation and praise. Nagai also nails the pained vulnerability and frailty of the mute Kai.
Ultimate The Woman Of The Photographs is a strong and deeply romantic love story that languishes in the growing problematic yet touching developing relationship of its two leads and forces the audience to soak in its fully realised and powerful aesthetic. It handles the issues it examines with care and a deft-hand and balances the tragedy and hope of the whole thing.
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