A Crowd of Three -- Film Review

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"A Crowd of Three" is a road movie motored by characters that drive each other (and probably quite a few audiences) up the wall, not least because of its unsympathetic characters, unpleasant violence, or its inarticulate manner of speaking out for grassroots youth. The disturbing misogyny that serves as a lubricant for male-bonding alone is enough to curtail overseas market destinations.

If Tatsuhi Omori's idea of representing angry young men by making them smash things and repeat lines like "I want to break out" already sounds trite, wait till you see the other cliches that pile up along the way as the two protagonists go on a meandering road trip, and like every Japanese film charting a 'journey of self-discovery,' reach the sea at the last stop.

Kenta (Shota Matsuda) and Jun (Kengo Kora) first appear prowling the streets chatting up girls. They settle on plain-looking Kayo (Sakura Ando). The two men are demolition workers raised in the same orphanage. They are bullied by the foreman Yuya, who was stabbed by Kenta's pedophiliac elder brother Kazu years ago. At the spur of the moment, Kenta and Jun wreck their office and disfigure Yuya's car with sledgehammers. They escape to Abashiri Prison in Hokkaido, to visit Kazu.

The film feels like a Punch & Judy sequence of Kenta and Jun picking fights with others or with each other. Omori wants to say that lack of education or opportunities makes them prisoners in a free society, but despite their oft-chanted mantra of wanting to "break through" and Kenta's self-description as "the type who cannot choose," they are never shown even trying to make choices, nor are forces of oppression memorably identified.

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Kayo and Jun's relationship is an abusive cycle of using her for money and sex, then rough-handling and dumping her. Her chronic lack of self-esteem and masochism is more unwatchable than Jun's routine degradation of her. It's the old cliche of the oppressed taking it out on those weaker than themselves, but there is also sadistic glee in the representation, crystallized by the closing shot of Kayo smiling through a bleeding mouth just after she is thrown out of a car. The fact that Ando, the feisty cult-leader in "Love Exposure" is so convincing makes it even more troubling.

Technical credits are proficient but not noteworthy, except the spirited and hard-edged music. The song at closing credits sports cocky, anarchist lyrics that flaunt an attitude the film itself barely manages.

Venue: Berlin International Film Festival -- Forum (Reviewed at Tokyo Filmex International Film Festival)
Sales: Asmik Ace Entertainment Inc.
Production: Little More Co., Ltd.
Cast: Shota Matsuda, Kengo Kora, Sakura Endo, Hirofumi Arai
Director-screenwriter: Tatsushi Omori
Producers: Tomoo Tsuchii, Tomomi Yoshimura, Asako Nakano
Director of photography: Ryo Otsuka
Production designer: Ryo Sugimoto
Music: Yoshihide Otomo
Costume designer: Iga Daisuke
Editor:Shinichi Fushima
No rating, 131 minutes
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