After a short prelude in which a Bunraku tragedy is staged as a framework for what is to follow, three intersecting human stories are told simultaneously in a tedious 114 minutes of mystification. In the first, Sawako and boyfriend Matsumoto (Miho Kanno and Hidetoshi Nishijima) walk along public pathways, tied together with a red rope. This is meant for protection and identifies the pair as "'Bound Beggars,' aimless vagabonds to the outside world but desperate to find something forgotten," (according to the promo description).
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The baby-faced teen whose self-centered musings and obsessions make up the bulk of the film, Momoko Ryugasaki (Kyoko Fukada) lives in Shimotsura, what she thinks of as the most remote, podunk corner of Japan. It's a land of small farms and small-minded people more interested in getting a bargain than wearing interesting clothes, a fact that horrifies the fashion-obsessed Momoko to no end. She dreams of living in 18th century France, and rhapsodizes endlessly about the Rococo era, which in her gauzy imaginings seems to be a split between Dangerous Liaisons and an outré fashion spread. Thinking of clothing as an extension of personality, she's disgusted by the people in her hometown (who she imagines as being born and dying in tacky tracksuits) and is constantly working on self-improvement, thinking "When I see clothes I like, I want to become worthy of them." So there she is, walking the lonely roads in her frilly corseted dresses, demure demeanor, parasol and all, living only for her occasional trips to a haute couture shop in Tokyo, many hours away by train.
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Note that, at least on the bootleg DVD that I saw, the white-on-white subtitles make much of the film hard to understand. I doubt many people will care, anyway. The kooky sequel bears little resemblance to its predecessor, especially regarding the sense of dreadful urgency it carried. A stillborn thriller.
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There's already an Oscars buzz surrounding this movie.