Amir HafiziThursday, September 17, 2015
‘Tokyo Losers’ is based on a manga that is based on Saibara’s (left) life. (Pictures courtesy of Japan Foundation KL)
“Tokyo Losers” was shown last week as part of the Japanese Film Festival 2015 that ended yesterday. It is in close reference to the manga “Jokyo Monogatari” by manga artist Rieko Saibara, based on her life.
The film follows Natsumi Takahara (played by Kie Kitano) who, believing she is talented, goes to an art school in Tokyo. Finding it difficult to make ends meet, she becomes a bar hostess, discovering friendship and love among the other hostesses and one unemployed waiter.
“Tokyo Losers” is a faithful representation of the life of an aspiring artist in Tokyo. There are many similarities with a lot of other stories of struggling artists in other places, including Malaysia. The film fully captures the ups and downs wonderfully as well as sheds light into the creative processes of an artist.
For Natsumi, her inspiration comes from everything around her — a sexually active neighbour who provides fodder for her illustrations in an erotic magazine, while her childhood and her friends inspire her serial in a manga magazine.
Natsumi’s relationship with her unemployed boyfriend, Ryosuke (Sosuke Ikematsu), is also a rare depiction of a realistic relationship. Natsumi knows Ryosuke is leeching off her and she constantly contemplates dumping him throughout the story. She is fully aware of Ryosuke’s attempts to manipulate and scam money off of her, yet, she sticks by him because despite his failed conman antics, there is a similar artistic soul within Ryosuke.
The depiction of this relationship is extremely realistic as most couples are not good for each other yet they stay together for various reasons. Natsumi’s motives are multifaceted and open for interpretation but she does not fall into any stereotype of dumb women who support their boyfriends or the manipulative creature bent on revenge.
For example, Ryosuke brings a cat home and allows Natsumi to name it. One day, strapped for cash, Ryosuke very obviously lies to Natsumi that the cat is at the vet’s and needs a lot of money to recover. Natsumi isn’t fooled and she favours allowing the cat to “die” instead. Later, we see the cat again, safe and healthy.
However, throughout the movie, the quality of acting and storytelling is uneven. There are some cringe-worthy moments earlier on and some of the more emotional scenes with the family of Natsumi’s dying friend come across rather awkwardly.
Especially strange are Natsumi’s friends from the art school — their depiction might be accurate but it leaves the audience abandoning suspension of disbelief as one might question how and why these characters react that way.
Some of the visuals in the film depict subtly how isolated and lonely Natsumi feels in Tokyo. The footage of the train running across the screen at different times of the day is used intelligently to show gaps, distance and separation.
Kitano has done a wonderful job, mostly, with a very complex and layered character. The manga artist in real life eventually found success, but at the end of the film, Natsumi is left at a very poignant moment — she releases a book. Most people she has met throughout the film show up for the signing, and she finds out one last reveal about Ryosuke.
“Tokyo Losers” has its moments but is mostly an uneven movie.