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One of the earliest works by director in focus Kumakiri Kazuyoshi for this season's Japanese Film Festival, Antenna probably benefited from its R21 rating to draw in a sell out crowd this afternoon, with the director in attendance to introduce the film, which he described as strange - so who would have thought it really was that literal, with its narrative firmly focused on a dysfunctional family still reeling from the effects of a mysterious disappearance of Marie, the sister of Yuichiro (Ryo Kase) the protagonist from whom we follow through in his therapy, some many years ago.
As it was revealed during the Q&A session that the story was adapted from a science fiction novel, I suppose that would have explained some of the rather abstract elements in the film, such as the titular antenna, or antennae that got featured in the story, ranging from gigantic actual hardware, to figurative ones such as Yuichiro's younger brother Yuya (Daisuke Kizaki), who constantly enters a fit when his imaginary antenna which he describes as feelers, would go into overdrive twitching. But with other elements such as a cross-dressing child, an S&M service provider, and sins from the past all get thrown into the mix, Antenna turned out to be quite ambitious, if only its intended signals to be fine tuned properly would this turn out to have provided a better payload with regards to theme of struggling with loss in very personal fashion.
The bulk of the tale follows Yuichiro's intent to engage in S&M in order to, based on the context of his research, go into alternative therapy to deal with a loss and a secret buried so deep that he needed help to unlock his subconscious. It's this alternative method that earned the film its rating, what with self mutilation with unflinching cutting of the flesh using cheap box cutters, which to some serves as a way to feel alive, and the constant self-gratification under the guidance, or instruction and order if you will, of Naomi (Akemi Kobayashi), whom Yuichiro engages the services of. It's frankly quite bizarre, especially when there's voyeurism, shock therapy, and in events on other characters such as hangings and illicit sexual relationships, that will probably earn Kumakiri a reputation as a shock jock, if this would be the only film you've watched from his filmography.
The story and continuity got choppy with its liberal use of flashbacks, and in the later part of the film, dream fantasy sequences that also introduced that of collective dreams, that made this one really trippy ride that blurs the line between fantasy and reality, yet leaving things quite unresolved if you're looking for firm answers to the predicament of the characters. Yes the obstacles get overcome to a certain degree, but One will hardly find reason to care for their loss nor celebrate in their victories since pathos did not get firmly established, and this becomes an exercise to get from start to end in the most meandering fashion possible.
Hopefully the other films slated would be a little bit more palatable, and offer a lot more to an audience, than this misfire.
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