May 1st, 2010
Kakera is a bitter sweet romance rooted in the indie film making tradition. Set in contemporary Japan, it opens with disillusioned student, Haru, lying next to her rather gormless boyfriend, pulling at his cheek to see if he’s alive. It’s a neat start; Haru sleepwalks through a routine of classes and an inadequate romance with her vacant eyed lover, waiting to be stirred. The monotony of her life is finally broken one day by a chance encounter in a café after the cancellation of her first class.
Enter Riko, a spirited prosthetics artist and firm believer in carpe diem. She spots Haru in the corner with a cappuccino moustache and within minutes admits her attraction. The chance encounter prompts the beginning of a tumultuous journey of love. Like some heroine conjured from a Haruki Murakami novel, Haru is a young, fragile and sexually immature protagonist. She is a self-absorbed introvert who longs to be loved, but instead is just used as a convenient object of lust for her oversexed boyfriend.
So when Riko returns Haru the feelings she has longed for, she cannot resist her convivial charms, despite her obvious reservations about being with another girl. Superficially a lesbian love story, debut director Momoko Ando does not let the film fall into a stereotype. Even as Riko courts Haru, she dismisses the differences between men and women, while in another scene she leans in close to Haru and whispers “You smell like an animal”. It is the characters’ opposing qualities that attract one another and dictate the tumultuous course of their relationship, keeping the viewer interested in the run of events. Both are well played by Hikari Mitsushima (Haru) and Eriko Nakamura (Riko).
Kakera is not always an easy film to watch; its slow pacing sometimes demands patience and Ando refuses to contrive a bookended structure, so don’t expect a simple conclusion. But viewers will be rewarded by the beautiful moments peppering the film. Ando certainly has flair for detail; from distant fireworks that collapse even as they fly into the air (foretelling the young couple’s falling star) to the childlike magical realism of a soda bottle tossed into the sky, turning into a two-headed dove.
Even the jerking cuts from one scene to another play out the film’s subtitle A Piece of Our Life, like fragments of half remembered memories. It’s a little like watching 500 Days of Summer refilmed by a Chungking Express era Wong Kar Wai…
Kakera is not a great film, but its characters and style suffuse it with a vibrancy that held my attention. I would heartily recommend it to any Japanese or Indie film fans.
Words > Adam Gaudry
Tags: Momoko Ando, Third Window Films