Loneliness and bliss are fellow tenants in “Asyl,” a moody, contemplative but ultimately life-affirming Japanese meller about an unusual Tokyo love hotel. Concerned primarily with the distaff manager of a Shinjuku “rest only” establishment, pic is the latest film from the influential Pia Film Festival, which funds indie scripts in an annual competish. Low-key perfs are perfectly in tune with the mostly sullen atmosphere. While commercial prospects are zero, most fests will be making reservations. Long-range bookings should also be assured for scripter-helmer Izuru Kumasaka’s next project.
Pic begins with peroxide-haired 13-year-old Mika (Hikari Kajiwara) hauling her backpack around the streets of Tokyo’s Shinjuku district. Unable to find her destination, Mika is intrigued by two tykes and a small gang of teenage boys who happily enter one of Japan’s countless venues for illicit affairs. Mika checks in for a “rest” and searches the premises, finding the kids playing on a rooftop park, while some geriatric patrons also enjoy the open space and congenial atmosphere.
Bamboozled by this incongruous sight, Mika goes back into the office and meets manager Tsuyako (Lily). Manager invites Mika to stay overnight when she learns the girl has faked a camping trip to some rural hot springs in order to spy on her father and his new, happier family.
Despite her kind actions, Tsuyako is a stern savior, and Mika leaves the hotel the next day. Having spent the first half-hour creating the impression that Mika is the primary protag, pic then shifts to focus on Tsuki, a weight-conscious housewife who befriends Tsuyako and gets a job at the hotel.
On her first day on the job, Tsuki encounters the hotel’s most frequent customer, 17-year-old Marika (Chiharu Sachi Jinno), launching a new seg that overlaps with Tsuki’s. Arriving with a different man every time, Marika is the only customer who uses the love hotel for its customary purpose. Both Marika and Tsuyako are hard as flint, and the pair send off aggressive sparks that threaten to explode into a full-blown confrontation. Refusing to recognize Tsuyako’s authority as proprietor, Marika snoops around the hotel and confronts the manager with what she discovers.
Script has a persistently dark tone (sometimes literally so, as one extended conversation takes place in an inky-black unlit room), but unlike so many bleak Japanese indie features, pic has a sense of purpose that fully engages auds until its conclusion. Energetic and convincing performances are also well above the indie norm, with Lily’s controlled turn as the hotel manager particularly impressive.
Helmer’s style is straightforward and unfussy, with the occasional flourish. Lensing bleached-out and grainy; other tech credits are three-star level. English title is a Japanese contraction of the word “asylum.”