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If Tokyo Island were to use a synopsis that goes: “the survival adventures of a woman stranded on a tropical island with 23 half-naked sex-starved men in their testosterone-bursting prime,” it would probably have people lining up at the box office. But getting them to stay there for the full 129 minutes is another matter. For the most part, this fantasy-allegory keeps one hanging in there with its baffling course of events and unexpected reversals, but the non-stop changes in plot direction never build to a climax or payoff threat’s entertaining, intellectual or otherwise.
An extremely niche European audience might be drawn to the unusual yet promising teaming up of Makoto Shinozaki (known for the political audacity of Unforgiven) with veteran actress Tae Kimura (All Around Us) and Yosuke Kubotsuka (Himizu) who have both acquired reputations for appearing in quality films.
Kiyoko (Kimura) and her husband are shipwrecked on an island while taking a cruise holiday. Soon afterward, 16 truant laborers from nearby Okinawa are washed up as well. They name their temporary refuge Tokyo Island, and proceed to divide it into territories with names culled from the capital’s hotspots. One day, Kiyoko’s husband is found dead near a cliff. The men draw lots to be her next husband and she ends up with amnesiac GM. She becomes even more inflated with her status as Toki (an endangered bird) when a group of Chinese men also join the refugee island. Only Wataannabe (Kubotsuka) seems impervious to her charms, staying cool in the midst of the islanders’ power games and animalistic cravings.
There are some flashes of humor, like when Kiyoko instantly gives in to the temptation to abandon GM when the Chinese contingent’s strong, inscrutable leader Yang offers her the possible delights of Shanghai cuisine. There are some outbursts of violence that reinforce the primal nature of humans, but this film is not Battle Royale. Kimura throws herself into her mercurial role with gusto, but her image as a tough woman negotiating her survival among men with all kinds of archetypal flaws is compromised by occasional comic depictions of her slothfulness and gluttony. Her greatest resourcefulness ends up being the numerous creative uses she makes of her Hermes scarves.
Shinozaki’s possible intention to make parables on evolution, banana republics and Japanese society, then draw parallels between them appears obtuse, even as he only scratches the surface. Trimming and re-editing might help sharpen the focus of his political ideas. The final shot is cut off so abruptly, making the ending so open-ended, it’s like a cliff-hanger that never had a cliff to start with.
Tokyo International Film Festival, TIFF-COM Market Screenings
Sales: Gaga Corporation.
Production: Tokyo-jima Film Partners.
Cast: Tae Kimura, Yosuke Kubota, Seiji Fukushi.
Director: Makoto Shinozaki.
Screenwriter: Tomoko Aizawa.
Based on the novel by: Natsuo Kirino
Producers: Ritsuko Suzuki, Tomomi Yoshimura, Kyoichi Mori.
Executive producers: Yasuhide Uno, Kyoichi Mori, Yoshiaki Ito, Tadashi Miyaki, Hiroaki Kitano.
Director of photography: Akiko Ashizawa.
Production designer: Koichi Kanekatsu.
Costume designer: Junko Katsumata.
Music: Yoshihide Otomo.
Editor: Shinichi Fushima.
No rating, 129 minutes
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