By Jeremy Clarke.
Lowlife Love is the first film production from Third Window Films, which for just over a decade has been distributing movies from Japan and the Far East through UK cinemas and home video. For this opening foray, founder-turned-producer Adam Torel has chosen to work with writer/director Eiji Uchida whose earlier Greatful Dead (2013) offered an idiosyncratic vision of freedom, loneliness and sexual obsession.
It opens with two people asleep in bed in the early light of morning and closes anarchically with two men walking down a street, unaware that after the fade to black they’ll be mugged by two thugs rapidly approaching behind them. These bookends give some idea of the piece’s quirkiness. Overall, it’s a love letter to the lower echelons of the Japanese film industry, detailing the struggles of three wannabes in the director, screenwriter and star categories. And it’s high on satirical content.
The director within the film is 39-year-old Tetsuo (Kiyohiko Shibukawa) who years ago made a pretentious art film called The Sow. But in order to survive, he’s subsequently directed anything that’s going… mainly porn. He also runs a production company funded by payments from hopeful young things eager to break into the industry. This also supplies him with attractive young actresses for his own sexual purposes. He calls himself a film director but his sister and mother regard him as a good-for-nothing, sex-maniac layabout.
The screenwriter within the film is Ken (Shugo Oshinari), one of Tetsuo’s hopefuls. He’s lived abroad and speaks fluent English. He’s disarmingly sincere and a genuinely nice guy. Ken’s writing is so impressive that Tetsuo is soon passing off Ken’s spec screenplay Love’s End as his own work. Indeed, it’s good enough to attract the interest of older and wiser producer Kida (Denden) who immediately wants to be involved with its production.
The star within the film is Minami (Maya Okano), another of Tetsuo’s hopefuls. She is timid and shy, and immediately senses a mutual attraction to Ken. She resists Tetsuo’s advances, much to his chagrin, but in drama exercises and rehearsals, Minami demonstrates qualities lacking in her contemporaries. She turns into Tetsuo’s muse. Ken, too, thinks she has something unique, and vows that he will write a her screenplay with the best dialogue she’s ever seen, written especially for her.
A number of minor characters play significant roles in what follows. Many of them don’t turn up until much later in the proceedings. Kano (Kanji Furutachi) is the director who inspired Tetsuo’s The Sow and who takes over the production of Love’s End after Minami has sneaked out a copy of the script to him. Through Kano and TV director Shinjo (Kanji Tsuda) she moves from chaste regular church-goer through full blown sex-bomb, sleeping her way to the top, to dominatrix dispensing very specific favours to foot fetishists.
Meanwhile, Kyoko (Chika Uchida) starts off ready to sleep with anyone she thinks capable of advancing her career. Whenever a prospective industry target appears in her path, she phones a friend to hear if he’s worth the effort. In terms of acting chops she can’t really cut it, although in the end this doesn’t stop her picking up work, and she’s probably no better or worse than many other hopefuls. However, when faced with Tetsuo’s acting class exercise of imagining excrement then treading in it and reacting accordingly, she becomes embroiled in unnecessary questions. Is it human or animal poo? She irritates Tetsuo, who while he may look something of a timewaster, does actually have some understanding of what constitutes the actor’s craft. By way of contrast the shy Minami builds a compelling diatribe against a bystander from this same exercise.
Elsewhere, Tetsuo’s assistant Mamoru (Yoshihiko Hosoda) is tasked with interviewing boys like Ken while the lecherous Tetsuo interviews girls like Minami. Mamoru is loyal to Tetsuo, at least until something better comes along.
Lowlife Love stays with the viewer long after the credits have finished. The characters are distinctive and it’s an on-target satire of the world of low-budget film. Better still, the cast and crew appear to have had a lot of fun making it. All of which makes Lowlife Love an impressive effort for the debut production of a new company and it deserves all the support it can get. As if all that wasn’t enough, the disc comes with a worthwhile bunch of deleted scenes and other extras as well as a rather good promo music video.
Lowlife Love is released on dual format DVD and Blu-ray by Third Window Films.