'Lost Girls & Love Hotels': Film Review

Lost Girls & Love Hotels
Astrakan Releasing
A persuasive depiction of aimless hedonism.

Alexandra Daddario plays a struggling expat in William Olsson's Tokyo-set drama.

Endless drunken sex in exotic locales is no kind of fun for the star of William Olsson's Lost Girls & Love Hotels, a sober adaptation of Catherine Hanrahan's novel of the same name. Running away from herself — assuming she has a coherent self to run from — a young American woman remains just employed enough to pay rent in Tokyo while spending the rest of her time drunk and/or in bed with strangers at the quirky pay-by-the-hour destinations that hold such appeal for tourists. Adapted for the screen by the novelist, the film captures seediness without exploitation and gives its star Alexandra Daddario a refuge from the genre and eye-candy roles that populate her filmography. Though not quite involving enough to set arthouses afire, it's a high point for everyone involved.

Daddario plays Margaret, who works at a school for flight attendants — not so much as an English teacher, but as a native-speaking "pronouncer" to show students how their announcements should sound. The students like her, but her habit of straggling into the building late, walk-of-shame style, and struggling to be presentable for class has her at risk of getting fired.

After hours, she keeps barstools warm alongside two fellow expats (Carice van Houten and Andrew Rothney), usually getting wobbly-drunk before leaving them behind and letting some Japanese stranger pick her up. Always suggesting the man in question take her to a love hotel, she winds up in an extravagantly decorated room, numbed under blue or red lights, perhaps wrapping a belt around her neck and giving the anonymous man the reins. These scenes aren't played for viewer titillation, nor do they moralize: We may see Margaret's behavior as unhealthy, but Olsson's staging doesn't degrade or dehumanize her.

One day, Margaret is approached by a man she doesn't see coming. Kazu (Takehiro Hira) finds her looking at a book of ukiyo-e erotica and compliments her taste. When they wind up in a room together and Margaret instructs him to ziptie her wrists, Kazu doesn't flinch. There's something almost boastful about the motion with which he removes his shirt, revealing a torso covered in yakuza tattoos.

Breaking her custom, Margaret sees Kazu again. He says she's special because she's "difficult to make happy" and he likes a challenge. As for him, he ruefully says he "can't have happy," as he's about to be married — not for love, but out of a sense of duty. Surprising her at work and suggesting sudden daytrips, Kazu romances her with the urgency of a man who knows pleasure will not last. Margaret doesn't intuitively grasp that fact, but she'll be forced to confront it before this relationship fully draws her out of the fog she's been living in. However much its protagonist flounders here, Lost Girls seems uninterested in eliciting pity for her; it may not even want sympathy. Margaret's alienation isn't stark enough for a '60s art film, but she's also not an easy figure to engage with; Daddario's performance doesn't romanticize the character's plight any more than the script does.

Nipponophiles will find some pleasure here despite the mostly joyless story — Olsson's feel for the place is lived-in rather than touristic, emphasizing the small landmarks (like that neighborhood bar Margaret's friends call home) that a long-term visitor settles into after the sightseeing is done. Love hotels, with their endless variation behind anonymous facades, represent the opposite of that stability, and a "lost girl" is unlikely to find herself there. But maybe that's not what Margaret's after, at least not yet.

Production company: Blackbird
Distributor: Astrakan Releasing (Available Friday, September 18 on digital and VOD)
Cast: Alexandra Daddario, Takehiro Hira, Carice Van Houten, Misuzu Kanno, Andrew Rothney, Yasunari Takeshima, Kate Easton, Haruka Imo
Director: William Olsson
Screenwriter: Catherine Hanrahan
Producers: Lauren Mann, Lawrence Inglee
Executive producer: Andrew Pfeffer
Director of photography: Kenji Katori
Production designer: Arad Sawat
Costume designer:
Editor: Sarah Flack Ace
Composer: Ola Flottum
Casting director: Susan Shopmaker

R, 96 minutes