Hideo Sakaki's manga adaptation is an oil-and-water mix of outrageous carnal comedy and disconcertingly earnest emotion.
Two parts outrageous carnal comedy to one part disconcertingly earnest emotion, “Disregarded People” offers a mix that sometimes seems like oil and water. But no one is likely to fall asleep during this fifth directorial feature by Hideo Sakaki, a thesp familiar in the West for appearing in such cult faves as “Versus,” “Alive,” “The Grudge” and “Battlefield Baseball.” Based on a late 1990s manga by Inochi (aka George) Akiyama, who wrote the screenplay, the pic remains true to a sensibility that’s shocked (and delighted) Nippon readers for more than 40 years, though whether the graphic content here is not at all or entirely gratuitous will be a matter of personal taste. Adventuresome tests and niche offshore distribution are signaled.
“Why was I ever born? Why am I even here?” asks protag Yusuke (Nao Omori) in voiceover at the beginning — and again at the end, after numerous years and events have ultimately failed to alter his nihilistic p.o.v. A surly loner of sometime past criminality who’s arrived on Fukue Island to spend “final days by the sea,” he sees no point in going on, telling the first person who smiles at him (a rare occurrence): “I’m tired of it. Sick of living … I’m just a lowlife.” That person is takeout counter staffer Kyoto (Hitomi Miwa), whose beauty and self-esteem are marred by an inky blueish facial birthmark. Yusuke’s self-description is proven apt when he takes advantage of her kindness via attempted rape. Later, she accepts his apology — and he promptly repeats the assault, this time sans interruptus.
Both have somewhat sordid familial pasts, although Kyoto has come out of it rather strenuously trying to see the bright side in everything, while Yusuke is incapable of perceiving anything but the mire. Though she succeeds in semi-domesticating him such that he gets a legit job (filleting at a local fish factory), the only thing he’s capable of expressing any enthusiasm for is the sexual act — which he practices as frequently and indiscriminately as possible, including with Kyoto’s bar-hostess aunt. (The sight of any female posterior reduces him to an open-mouthed stare recalling Billy Bob Thornton’s similar fixation in “Bad Santa.”) Kyoto has aspirations toward virtuousness (and religious faith), but doesn’t really resist Yusuke’s compulsive pawing that much. Theirs is a relationship that shouldn’t last five minutes, yet somehow endures over the long haul, eventually even bearing a child (despite Yusuke’s initial insistence on abortion).
Normally a narrative like this would lead toward redemption. But Akiyama and Sakaki aren’t having any of that — “Disregarded People” is suffused with a deep-dyed existential cynicism, never jauntier than when its characters are having vigorous, unattractive sex, which they almost always are. Everybody cheats on everyone else; love is a thing that takes rather than gives, when experienced at all. It’s only in the occasional moments when the pic seems to back away from this utterly bleak (yet funny) viewpoint to flirt with a sincere yearning that it feels a bit off — the softer tone just doesn’t work in this context.
Some viewers will no doubt take offense at so much crude, animalistic coupling treated as comedy, let alone at the rather cavalier attitude taken toward rape. (Here, “no” invariably means sorta-kinda “yes.”) But there is little question that the filmmakers and very game cast punch things across on their own bracingly singular terms. They eke humor and some hapless humanity from a vision whose point is that everything is, well, pointless.
Sparsely scored, the film is equally unfussy but effectively crafted in all departments.
Film Review: 'Disregarded People'
Reviewed at Tokyo Film Festival (competing), Oct. 20, 2013. Running time: 123 MIN. Original title: "Sutegataki hitobito"
(Japan) A Family Tree production. (International sales: ARK Entertainment, Tokyo.) Produced by Inochi Akiyama.
Directed by Hideo Sakaki. Screenplay, Inochi Akiyama. Camera (color, HD), Kozo Miyagawa; editor, Hideki Seino; music, Izumi Sakaki; production designer, Shinpei Inoue; costume designer, Yoshiko Okamoto; sound, Yasushi Eguchi; assistant director, Yuya Yamaguchi; casting, Kumiko Hoshi.
Nao Omori, Hitomi Miwa, Jun Miho, Chika Uchida, Kenichi Takitoh, Youzaburo Ito, Tomorowo Taguchi.