Featuring an erotic midsection between austere opening and closing acts, kinky love story “Amazing Story” will appeal to upscale auds who enjoy sexy, minimalist foreign-lingo movies dressed down and stripped of much dialogue. However, pic’s strong start, honest perfs and elegant lensing are let down by the script’s ludicrously melodramatic conclusion. Awarded a special mention for direction at the Locarno festival, the “Tie Me Up! Tie Me Down!”-style romance is likely to keep it up on the fest circuit.
Shot in a landscape carpeted in snow, recalling helmer Masahiro Kobayashi’s previous efforts (“Film Noir,” “The Man Who Walked on Snow”), disturbed loner Kenji (Kazuki Kitamura, soon to be seen in “Kill Bill: Volume 1”) arrives in a small town on the Japanese island of Hokkaido. He spots his quarry, Harumi (Keiko Oginome), giving a haircut in the salon she owns, and soon kidnaps and ferries her back to the dilapidated house he’s cleaned for her.
At first, Harumi begs to be returned to her shiftless, gambler husband, Ikuo (Jiro Sato). But she changes her mind and is soon happily humping away with Kenji and asking to be tied up at night, supposedly so she won’t be tempted to run away.
When Harumi is spotted by a former client on their first venture out, it looks like the end for the new love affair. (Publicly, Kobayashi has remarked to press that it’s at this point Kenji has supposedly fallen out of love with his prisoner, although there’s little sign of this emotional shift onscreen.) A last-reel confrontation between Kenji and Ikuo fills in the blanks about how the former’s obsession began, before a deus ex machina tragedy returns everything to its original state.
Despite the schematic nature of the characters’ motivation, once the shagging starts, the first hour is indeed sexy as the couple couple away on a mattress, in the bath, in the living room, etc. Kobayashi keeps the proceedings from looking like a porn film by keeping the camera static for long takes at a distance from the action, while slow, 360-degree pans create seamless “cuts” in time, adding a certain stylized flair.
Sincere perfs by handsome couple Kitamura and Oginome make the passion credible. However, film’s strongest suit is its limpid, classically framed lensing by Kenji Takama, at one point directly referencing Edward Hopper in a shot involving a lit window, the side of a house and a barber pole. Editing seems deliberately sluggish, and music is minimal, apart from a haunting version of “Amazing Grace” sung in Japanese over the opening credits.
Japanese title literally means “The Female Hairdresser’s Love,” and pic had been listed as “The Hairdresser.” Current English title, “Amazing Story,” is the director’s personal choice.