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Review: Kotoko (EIFF)


Japanese director and actor, Shin'ya Tsukamoto, latest project Kotoko sees him team up with folk rock artist, Cocco for disturbing horror drama, Kotoko.

Tsukamoto's film follows a woman, Kotoko, balancing life as a single mother, alongside her threatening mental problems. Gradually, the boundaries between what is real and what is simply a product of her dark imagination, begin to blur.

Shin'ya Tsukamoto is on top form visually, dragging us into Kotoko's harrowing nightmare world filled with twisted double vision and hallucinations of the dangers that could affect her child. Kotoko's disturbing apparitions are particularly difficult to watch - seeing the mentally unstable mother standing on a rooftop, slowly loosening her grip of her baby, is completely unsettling. This combined with Kotoko's high pitched, shrill screams, builds up an a chilling atmosphere throughout.

Kotoko does become rather tedious, simply overstaying its welcome (even at a relatively short 91 minutes). Pacing slows down after the introduction of Kotoko's stalker, turned boyfriend - Seitaro Tanaka (played by Tsukamoto) - and they say true love is dead. The relationship between the pair feels particularly unconvincing - Kotoko takes out her violent rage on her boyfriend, at one point completely destroying his face, yet he is still infatuated by her. Praise must go to Cocco's raw and brutal performance, the singer completely dedicates herself to this part - mentally and physically. Several scenes of Kotoko self-harming appear so realistic, one may finding oneself questioning their perception of what is real and what is fiction. Unfortunately, Tsukamoto makes no effort to help the viewer show any empathy towards Kotoko - with no attempt made to understand her mental illness. We are simply shown her outrageous behaviour and left to regard her as a lunatic. Tsukamoto's supporting turn, which is supposed to add comic relief does not gel with the darkly intense subject matter - resulting in the role simply feeling off-key and incomprehensible.

The strength in Tsukamoto's film comes from his rich visual design. One notable sequence prior to Kotoko's conclusion shows the title-characters' son's toys come to life, in a fusion of bright colours and outstanding visuals.

Kotoko is a harrowing piece of cinema, that unfortunately overstays its welcome. Despite a fascinating and dedicated performance from Cocco and some extraordinary visual design, Kotoko becomes tedious and relentlessly nasty, making no attempt to discuss mental illness in a sympathetic light.

Rating: 2.5/5

Originally posted on The People's Movies.
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