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One wishes Someone’s Xylophone (Dareka no Mokkin) would have been more daring in letting its protagonist act out her fantasies about her 24-year-old hairdresser. As desperate-housewife stories go, veteran director Yoichi Higashi’s well-heeled romance stays dutifully on the side of realistic family drama, when the story fairly cries out to let its hair down, the way Daihachi Yoshida’s irreverent Pale Moon did a few years ago. The result is an enjoyable psychological drama that looks best positioned as local entertainment.
The realism of the opening shots sets the scene as dawn breaks over a sleepy suburb neatly lined with identical row houses called “maisonettes.” Each house has a prominently featured outdoor bathroom, accessible with a key. Here lives the angel-faced Kaito (Sosuke Ikematsu), a stylist at a local beauty salon, who often shares his bed with his extroverted girlfriend Yui.
A bit more upscale is the residence of the delicate middle-class Sayoko (TV drama queen turned film actress Takako Tokiwa), her husband and their teenage daughter, who have just moved into the area. Soon Sayoko needs a haircut.
The story is told from her p.o.v. with some difficulty, since Tokiwa plays her as a mysterious lady who demurely keeps her feelings to herself. We can only guess what’s going through her mind as Kaito’s soothing fingers massage her scalp. Later, she fantasizes about two men caressing her in bed. It’s not as though she was sexually deprived, as becomes clear when a security system salesman rings the doorbell one fine day and boffs her on the sofa. He turns out to be her husband.
But Sayoko’s attention is gently, clearly focused in another direction. From sending tons of emails (including a snapshot of her new mattress) to ringing Kaito’s doorbell is a short step, and the young man begins to become alarmed. In comparison to Hal Ashby’s 1975 satire Shampoo, Kaito is the quintessential anti-Warren Beatty; instead of being an undercover womanizer crassly exploiting his professional contacts, he’s discomfited to find an attractive 40-year-old housewife coming on to him. Because she’s a client he tries to be tactful, until his girlfriend goes ballistic and starts ringing doorbells herself.
Despite the story’s comic potential, Higashi’s direction is perversely straight and understated, seeking out psychological nuance while side-stepping scandal. Both of the female leads are quite good. Tokiwa, who starred in Amir Naderi’s Cut, floats through the film as ethereal and wistful as a ghost woman, in contrast to Kaito’s gangbuster girlfriend (Aimi Satsukawa, who played a college girl in the horror crossover Sadako vs. Kayako).
Venue: Tokyo Film Festival (Japan Now)
Production companies: Kino Films, Siglo, Horipro
Cast: Takako Tokiwa, Sosuke Ikematsu, Aimi Satsukawa, Takahito Hosoyamada, Yukijiro Hotaru, Masanobu Katsumura, Aoba Kawai, Mikoto Kimura, Yukino Kishii
Director-screenwriter: Yoichi Higashi, based on a novel by Areno Inoue
Producers: Eiji Watanabe, Tetsujiro Yamagami
Director of photography: Tomohiko Tsuji
Production designer: Emiko Tsuyuki
Costume designers: Masae Miyamoto
Editors: Yoichi Higashi, Yuji Ohshige
World sales: Kino Films
Not rated, 112 minutes
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