Sometimes you find a movie, seeking it out based on word of mouth, interest in a director, or simple curiosity. Other times, a movie finds you, creeping up like a sex offender in a darkened Tim Horton’s parking lot, an analogy that really couldn’t be more accurate to describe this week’s movie, although perhaps minus the Tim Horton’s part.
In this case, Man, Woman and the Wall sidled up and copped a surprise feel when I happened across the disc randomly at work, and was intrigued by the title and the fact that I’d never heard of it, the director, or anyone in it. It was a blank slate, something of which I had no expectations and otherwise would never have heard of. Turns out there was a reason for that, but we’ll get to that.
After moving into a new apartment, a young magazine reporter named Ryo discovers the wall between him and his beautiful neighbor Satsuki is thin enough that he can hear her every action, leading to an unhealthy obsession and some markedly stalker-ish and voyeuristic tendencies. But when Ryo learns Satsuki is being hounded by a much more aggressive brand of weirdo, and he actually strikes up a real friendship with her based on more than listening to her through his wall, Ryo has to figure out how to help her without his own secret being revealed.
Going into the film, I started to get a sinking feeling this wasn’t a bit more blue than I had anticipated, and the film’s production qualities made the possibility of something dire loom overhead making spooky noises and saying “There will be lots of fuuucking!” like a horror movie narrator who’s given up on being subtle. It’s obvious from the outset this film was made on about as much money as I spend on shaving every month, it being shot on cheap digital cameras and cheaply lit and scored. And judging by the improvised look of a lot of the on location scenes, there was nary a shooting permit in sight. Finally it sunk in. I had rented a pinku movie, an ultra-low-budget Japanese softcore skin flick, just one with a mildly interesting plot and maybe an attempt at subversion or two.
The film spends a lot of time walking the fine line between being -about- voyeurism and just feeling voyeuristic. Early in the movie we’re treated to an overly long sex scene between Satsuki and her boyfriend, which would feel massively excessive if not for the occasional insert shot of Ryo listening attentively in the other room, and I do see what you’re doing there movie, holding up Ryo’s own perversion to the audience as if to say “Hah, look at that weirdo sitting there in the dark listening to other people fucking…kind of like YOU!”. But methinks perhaps the message would be better received if you didn’t really, really, really enjoy showing Satsuki undressing or taking a bath. Sure you can point out how we’re being pervs, but when you yourself are spending more time showing your leading lady getting her girls out than I spend crafting analogies to make film reviews sound more pithy, you start to feel like you’re trying to have your cake and eat it too, if the cake was an attractive naked woman and by eat it meant…nevermind.
Not helping things at all is the ending, which I don’t think anyone really cares if I spoil, and involves Ryo helping fend off Satsuki’s stalker, who turns out to be her boyfriend, only to have Satsuki discover he’s been perving on her and ultimately decide to shag his brains out anyway and I mean really, this is just turning into a fantasy now. The only way this film could have really -worked- is if Ryo wound up just as sad and alone as he was at the start, having learned a harsh lesson and grown as a human being, rather than have Satsuki strip naked for the closing shot to present herself like some absurd “congrats on being the lesser of two perverts” trophy. I’m not quite sure what I expected from this film in terms of gender politics and morality but you’re making it very hard not to call bullshit when the bullshit in question is sitting directly in front of me wafting steam into the mid-morning air.
So why am I reviewing this movie? Why not just scrap the review? Why am I not just brushing it off as the inconsequential bargain-basement tripe that it is? Well, partially because I wanted to prove to myself that I could grab almost anything, even a micro-budget Japanese sex romp and still find something interesting and critical to say. But if you want another answer, consider this a lesson in how we can’t brush off bad storytelling and moral bankruptcy, even when we see it coming. The vast majority of people who sit through Man, Woman and The Wall will in all likelihood brush it off, not thinking too hard about it, and as a result probably not realizing how much of its terrible gender politics they’ve internalized. It -matters- that the female lead in this film is little more than something to gawk at, and that the male lead’s unrepentantly aberrant behavior is ultimately rewarded and not even slightly punished. Even the most low-budget Z-grade video-fodder should still be called out when it presents something wrong-headed or morally objectionable, because it can do the most harm when we dismiss it as harmless.