Kotoko: Venice Film Review

Venice Film Festival
Plunge into a single mom’s mental instability becomes a disorientingly arduous ordeal.

Singing star Cocco stars in this Japanese psychological horror from cult director Shinya Tsukamoto


Japanese auteur Shinya Tsukamotoserves up his latest assaultive provocation with Kotoko, an abrasive evocation of a fragile woman’s violently paranoid delusions. The presence of singer-songwriter Cocco, making her big-screen debut in the title role will boost appeal to domestic audiences, though the Björk-like artist’s popularity has been on the wane since her 1998 peak.

Tsukamoto’s cult following likewise isn’t what it was. He remains best known for the two Tetsuo movies from 1989 and 1992, but he retains enough fan-boy prestige to ensure Kotokowill be a popular festival booking, especially at events with a fantastical emphasis. Outside Japan theatrical prospects are slim to non-existent with DVD sales a more lucrative option for an adults-only enterprise punctuated with graphically violent and gory sequences.

The bulk of these are realizations of Kotoko’s nightmarish hallucinations, which take up so much of the overextended running time that we quickly learn to mistrust almost everything we see and hear. Kotoko may not even have a child at all, though many of her episodes involve dire events befalling her toddler son Daijiro. If Daijiro does exist, Kotoko is, on the evidence of the early stretches, about as unsuitable a parent as recent cinema can have thrown up. Even the most mundane domestic duty tends to send her into an existential crisis with mother and baby competing to see who can emit the shrillest histrionic screams.

Kotoko only finds calm when she sings, thus allowing Cocco, also responsible for the movie’s score, to display her impressive vocal capacities including a refrain that seems to go on forever. This is one example of Tsukamoto’s fondness for excess in all areas tipping over into very dark comedy.

The latter is on full display at several junctures during Kotoko’s extremely weird romance with hit novelist Tanaka – played by Tsukamoto himself as the director invariably takes a leading role in his own movies. This relationship is marked by the drastic beatings meted out by the waif-like Kotoko, which Tanaka endures for his own mysterious purposes.

Whatever else one can say about Tsukamoto, he certainly brings his distinctive vision of the world to the screen with minimal compromise and interference. As well as writing, directing and appearing here, he edits the movie and collaborates on the cinematography with Satoshi Hayashi. Because while Kotoko can’t be faulted for the way it takes us directly into its heroine’s states of crippling neurosis – Masaya Kitada’s deafening sound design makes a crucial contribution here – the hallucinations and fantasies yield increasingly diminishing returns as they pile up and up, and drag on and on.
Venue: Venice Film Festival (Orizzonti)
Production companies: Kaijyu Theater
Cast: Cocco, Shinya Tsukamoto
Director/producer/screenwriter/editor: Shinya Tsukamoto
Executive producer: Keiko Kusakabe
Directors of photography: Shinya Tsukamoto, Satoshi Hayashi
Music/production designer: Cocco
Sales: Gold View, Tokyo
No rating, 91 minutes

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