'The Dork, the Girl and the Douchebag' ('Kuzu to Busu to Gesu'): Rotterdam Review

Courtesy of Eiga Banzoku
Dark fiction in all its pulpy, gory glory.

Japanese enfant terrible Yosuke Okuda returns to Rotterdam as director and star of a comically twisted tale with dodgy scams and drug deals aplenty.

With his second feature, 29-year-old Japanese maverick Yosuke Okuda has delivered what is probably one of the most extreme examples of a filmmaker suffering physically for his art of recent times. Casting himself as a sadistic conman caught out by local mobsters for his wheeling and dealing, Okuda is shown being beaten to a pulp, kicked senseless and having a piercing torn out of his nose — all that in addition to the multiple times when he smashes an object onto his own bald head. All this while playing one of the most toxic villains to emerging out of Japanese cinema. Werner Herzog, eat your heart (or shoes) out.

Shot mostly in gloomy and cramped interiors — dank dive bars, tatty tenements, shabby storehouses — The Dork, the Girl and the Douchebag is much more unnerving and claustrophobic than Okuda's comical mobster-farce debut, Tokyo Playboy Club. The film's stylized violence and misanthropy is certainly an acquired taste of sorts, but it's nevertheless an audacious effort that punches very much above its indie weight. Making its bow in Rotterdam — where both Okuda's 2009 short Hot as Hell: The Deadbeat March and Tokyo Playboy Club received their European premieres — The Dork, which screened at the Tokyo FilmEx festival in November, will certainly find a niche in Asian-themed genre-oriented festivals and distributors out looking for the next Sion Sono.

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Like Okuda's previous films,The Dork is an ensemble drama in which a minor incident sets off a chain of snowballing, increasingly ludicrous events. Kicking off the proceedings in the prologue, a salary man tries to drink himself to oblivion in a bar while confessing that he chickened out of eloping with his mistress. Cut to another ragged drinking den, where the woman sits waiting. Here, Okuda's extortionist character appears and his douchebag credentials are laid bare: He snorts coke while taking a dump in the toilet, comes out and spikes the woman's drink, and the next thing we see is him leaving his room in the morning, his victim still tied up by the bed and compromising pictures of her already taken and stored away.

But the douchebag's plans have hit a snag. His prey, as it turns out, is an escort, and her gangster boss (Makato Ashikawa, a regular of Takeshi Kitano's films) arrives to demand compensation. Unable to cough up the money, the hoodlum sets the ball rolling with a moneymaking scheme that eventually brings the "dork" and the "girl" into the loop: the former is a rehabilitated ruffian struggling to go straight because of his ridiculous appearance and unreconstructed temperament, and the latter is his long-suffering wife who, somehow, is jolted out of her meek, office-worker life as a result of all these shenanigans hatched by the obnoxious men around her.

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Stretched out across an overlong 141 minutes, The Dork, the Girl and the Douchebag is quite tough viewing: There's hardly an empathetic character here, with all the men's overbearing facial hair — in addition to the dork's quiff and the douchebag's moustache, there's the hippy hair of a bartender and the beard of a hash addict — mirroring their equally unseemly behavior. The violent endgame, meanwhile, is like Reservoir Dogs' standoff finale with less wit but a lot more bloodshed.

Both on- and offscreen, Okuda has certainly indulged in all the extreme mise-en-scene he thinks he can get away with. All these provocative visual antics have, however, veered the narrative away from its potential of becoming an intriguing black, deadpan comedy. Kengo Ogawa's handheld camerawork has injected a lot of urgency into the proceedings, but he and editor Takuya Onadera are obviously constrained by the director's penchant in dialing all the screaming, grimacing and over-acting to the max. Okuda is a distinctive directorial voice, but he might need a restraining influence to hone his ragged edges into a real, finished item.

Production company: Eiga Banzoku
Cast: Shunya Itabashi, Eri Iwata, Yosuke Okuda, Makato Ashikawa, Onishi Yoshiaki
Director: Yosuke Okuda
Screenwriter: Yosuke Okuda
Producers: Yosuke Okuda, Takeshi Kobayashi, Ayano Fukuda
Director of photography: Kengo Yagawa
Production designer: Akiko Takeda
Costume designer: Rei Kobayashi
Editor: Takuya Onodera
Sound designer: Takuya Onodera
International Sales: Ayano Fukuda
Venue: International Film Festival Rotterdam (Bright Future)

In Japanese

No rating, 141 minutes