Lowlife Love (Cert 15)
1 Disc (Distributor: Third Window Films) Running Time: 111 minutes approx.
It might not be intentional but Japanese writer-director Eiji Uchida might have made a film which actively dissuades people from entering the film industry, at least in his native Japan, although that is not to dismiss the fact that practices depicted in Lowlife Love occur on a global scale.
Tetsuo Aoki (Kiyohiko Shibukawa) is an indie film director with one credit to his name from years ago. Now aged 39, he lives at home with his mother (Kumi Yuki) and younger sister Akina (AV Actress Nanami Kawakami). Aside from his small acting classes, Tetsuo survives by leeching from his family and friends, including loyal small time porn film maker Mamoru (Yoshihiko Hosoda).
Yet, in spite of Tetsuo’s exaggerated reputation as a film director, he is surrounded by aspiring starlets, some even willing to sleep with him for a role. But Tetsuo is flummoxed when shy actress Minami (Maya Okano) forcefully rejects his clumsy advances. To win her over, Tetsuo gives Minami the lead role in his next film, written by meek writer Ken (Shugo Oshinari).
There is an inherent irony about one of the main plot points of Tetsuo’s struggle to find financing for his project, being that Lowlife Live was itself funded by a Kickstarter campaign run by Third Window founder and the film’s producer Adam Torel. Thanks to the generosity of many (including yours truly) Torel and director Eiji Uchida were able to get this project off the ground.
Unlike Adam Torel, Tetsuo doesn’t experience the same ease or goodwill in finding funding and is forced to resort to relying on shady producer Kida (Denden), a man with suspect connections for help in this matter; then again Kida tells Tetsuo that he should make his film a porno since it is all essentially the same thing to him. Yet Tetsuo believes he is all about making art and the indie level is where the true integrity of filmmaking is.
Coming from a man who uses his filmmaking credentials to lure desperate and deluded starlets into his bed under the pretext of a role in a film he has no intention of making, this is a bit rich – yet this attitude that “big studios equals lack of credibility” is pervasive among some filmmakers and film fans alike. However this doesn’t make Tetsuo a totem of “credible” filmmaking, rather an unscrupulous chancer who takes advantage of the naïve and overly ambitious.
Like all walks of life there are the strivers for whom hard work pays off and then there are the base level scum who make a living on others blood, sweat and tears. By focusing on the latter Uchida is borderline suggesting that the glamorous side of filmmaking is almost an unattainable myth it if you don’t sell your soul.
Then again no-one is going to get far with Tetsuo either. Contrary to what you might initially believe he is not the eponymous lowlife of this tale – in fact he is surrounded by them. Kida is just one, while for every deluded young filly Tetsuo scores with there are those who deliberately jump on the casting couch.
Kyoko (Chika Uchida) has been on the bottom rung for a while, even sleeping with Tetsuo for no reward. She even has a friend to do a background check on every director she meets, summarily cancelling a night of passion if his resume conflicts with the glowing version he gave her. When Tetsuo gives Minami the lead role in his film, Kyoko as the better and more experienced actress is resentful and takes revenge.
One of the more curious characters is Kaede (Sachie Yamasaki). After a public bust up with a friend in the sleazy bar Tetsuo and co frequent, she approaches Tetsuo in the unisex toilets and literally throws herself on him, declaring her love and her intent to move in with him. A few scenes later we see this did indeed occur and Kaede is completely and disturbingly servile to Tetsuo despite his abusive treatment of her.
It is not abundantly clear what Uchida is saying with his film other than the industry is a cut throat and unpredictable one where only the strong and the powerful survive. Yet in many ways this is a backhanded love letter to Uchida’s chosen profession, evident in the words of another director Kano (Kanji Furutachi) who likens filmmaking to a drug, or perhaps less flattering, to a loose woman you just can’t shake off from your mind.
By showing the lascivious and seedy side of the industry and the disreputable people that inhabit this particular district – possibly exaggerated, possibly not – Uchida offers a refreshing change from the usual rags to riches tale involving acting, stripping away the glamour to show life at the bottom, yet alludes to the fact that it isn’t always as sweet at the top either.
This is a bold film that reflects on the needier side of the human desire for attention where even the most noble of people will reach too far for that moment in the spotlight, or even the chance to do something for the sheer pleasure of their job. It is often silly, very outrageous, occasionally awkward and unflinching watch but the veracity behind it is all too palpable.
For an indie production the presentation is generally top notch (although Third Window’s subtitles could be a bit bigger) and Uchida has chosen a committed cast to bring his ugly creations to life. Kiyohiko Shibukawa unfortunately looks every inch the part of the irredeemable Tetsuo whilst Maya Okano takes Minami on a startling journey in what should be a breakout performance for her.
Hopefully Lowlife Love won’t put any budding filmmakers off and instead inspire them to be not end up like Tetsuo and co. The black comedy lifts this from being a totally bleak experience, also compensating for the lack of likeable characters. Perhaps not a totally profound viewing experience but an affecting and cynically astute one nonetheless.
Japanese DTS-HD 2.0
TIFF Stage Greetings
TIFF Red Carpet Interviews
Behind The Scenes
It’s A Wrap
Rating – ****
Man In Black