March 25, 2014

Abduction drama by an interesting debut director

Ra (2014)

”The world’s cutest movie director” Maki Mizui is quite an interesting person. In her youth she was kidnapped by a sex criminal. She managed to talk herself out of it unharmed, but the experience clearly left deep emotional scars. After it turned out the man’s other victims were not as lucky she wondered if she could have saved them had she convinced the police to look for the man. Mizui later drifted to adult videos – possibly while she was still underage – and gained reputation as Lolita princess. She also started cutting her wrists.

There’s a brighter side to her story as well. About 10 years ago Mizui was taken under the wings of splatter director / special effects artist Yoshihiro Nishimura. She worked as his assistant in both Nishimura’s own films and those of many other directors, such as Sion Sono. Mizui eventually caught the eye of many genre film fans before anyone even knew her by name: she was the sweet girl with glasses assisting Nishimura with gore effects at the sets of The Machine Girl ; she was a model in publicity photos for Tokyo Gore Police ; she was the narrator for Vampire Girl vs. Frankenstein Girl making of documentary, and so on. Wherever Nishimura went, you’d probably find Mizui there working as his assistant. Not a bad job for a pretty teenage girl, I though.

This year Mizui was once again at the Yubari International Fantastic Film Festival, but not only in her usual role as Nishimura’s assistant, but also as a first time director. Her debut film Kept (Ra), which was based on her own experiences as a kidnapping victim, was nominated for the festival’s main prize. Nishimura served as producer, adviser, and co-editor. When the film didn’t win at Yubari, Mizui walked on the stage and asked the president of the jury Kichitaro Negishi why? There were tears in her eyes all evening.

Needless to say it’s a highly personal film. In her official statement in the festival catalogue Mizui wishes all sex offenders would go to hell.

Mizui has crafted an extremely dark abduction drama based on her own experiences. The film first focuses on Mayumi (ex-AKB 48 member Kayano) – a character clearly based on Mizui herself – who is kidnapped by a criminal (Ken Koba). After she manages to free herself the focus shifts to other victims who receive a far more brutal treatment.

The film hammers the audience quite effectively. It’s a powerful film with a magnificent score by Kou Nakagawa (Tokyo Gore Police), based on Alex Proyas’ film Spirits of the Air, Gremlins of the Clouds (1989). Cheap emotionality is avoided, and at only 70 minutes it’s an intense ride without a dead spot along the way.

That being said, as a storyteller Mizui sometimes cuts corners. While the reality-base of the events is unquestioned, Mayumi’s character development from a terrified victim to a determined young woman trying to escape comes perhaps a bit too fast. Some of the symbolism with green forests and an owl-like creature, as well as some of the acting, also don’t quite hit the target. On the other hand, once Mayumi starts cutting her arms, the audience only knows too well how real it all is. The same cutting marks can be seen in Mizui’s own arms.

With its brutally dark vision and compact length Kept is a surprisingly strong film despite some shortcomings. It’s going to be interesting to see how Mizui’s career continues. Unlike the usual fairytale heroines, she’s neither embarrassed by nor denying by her past as Lolita idol or in some other raunchy movie roles. Rather the contrary, she continues provocative performances as an actress and entertainer, while at the same time showing a very different side of herself as a movie director. Audiences have something to digest.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: