Friday, August 6, 2010

Kakera: A Piece of Our Life (2009)

Director: Momoko Ando
Country: Japan

Haru (Hikari Mitsushima), the character at the centre of Kakera: A Piece of Our Life, is a charming creature who swiftly engraves herself in viewers’ memories with her big eyes, frequently dazed expression and a fat grey scarf that envelops her head. She is unfortunately trapped in a relationship with a boorish boyfriend who only ever meets with her just to have sex. But one day in a café, she meets Riko (Eriko Nakamura), who introduces herself by dabbing away a layer of cocoa from Haru’s lip. She openly states that she is intrigued by Haru and leaves her phone number along with a charming little sketched drawing, thus beginning an affectionate yet sometimes challenging relationship.

Adapted from the manga Love Vibes by Erika Sakurazawa, Kakera marks the debut of writer-director Momoko Ando, who admirably brings honesty and humor to her portrayal of the two young women and their love for one another. Riko carefully explains to Haru that she is not usually interested in women – just certain people. However, she later goes on to describe how much she prefers the softness of women over whatever men have to offer. In fact, touch is very much one of Kakera’s main reoccurring subjects. It is partly explored through Riko’s unusual profession as a maker of prosthetic limbs, in which she affectionately crafts soft and light replacement body parts. The limbs allow people to finally experience reparation and completion, the emotional equivalent of which Haru and Riko try to achieve. But obstacles occasionally prevent them from doing so – namely, Haru’s boyfriend and Riko’s angry reactions to his lingering presence in her life.

Throughout Kakera, Ando sprinkles just the right amount of whimsy into the film’s weightier moments of human drama. An especially memorable scene captures an intimate moment shared by Haru and Riko on a rooftop as they watch a smoky fireworks display. At one point, a bottled drink the two of them playfully toss around suddenly and inexplicably transforms into a two-headed dove that flies away. Another stunning image shows a star-covered night reflected in a mirror-like swimming pool that is distorted by spreading ripples. Then there is the mysterious Tohko (Rino Katase), for whom Riko is constructing a new breast to replace one lost to cancer. The craftswoman and her client share an intense, unusual relationship throughout the film while Haru encounters a challenge of her own in the form of Tetsu (Ryu Morioka), a shy young student with feelings for her.

If there is anything the film suffers from, it is its characters’ jarring mood shifts and overly simplistic traits. The former can particularly be attributed to Riko, whose angry outbursts towards Haru are not unfounded, but still too drastic and over-the-top to be entirely convincing. Haru’s passive nature is, after a certain point, a little overstated, as are her boyfriend’s negative qualities. However, when the characters balance out and express the right emotions in just the right proportions, the results are quite satisfying. Upon leaving the screening room at the Shinsedai Cinema Festival where I saw the film, the word I heard most often from other viewers was “tender,” which is probably the idea term to describe the love story between Riko and Haru and Ando’s skillful, heartfelt depiction of it. Following Masahide Ichii’s Naked of Defenses, which kicked off Shinsedai last year, Kakera: A Piece of Our Life ably continues a trend of high quality for the festival’s opening screenings.

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