Kotoko Review

Shinya Tsukamoto’s latest film reviewed by John

The Film

Shinya Tsukamoto’s latest modern nightmare is distressingly touching. It features many of the elements and themes that characterise his general work and reaffirms the aptitude he showed in inhabiting a feminine perspective from A Snake in June. Much of the power of this new work, though, comes from the rampaging performance he elicits from Cocco, a heartbreaking and emotionally compelling turn.Cocco was apparently responsible for the film’s story and in her first major acting role, she is in fact on screen from beginning to end in this claustrophobic intense story. She rattles about her environment occasionally breaking into expressionistic verse or dance movements, and goes from tenderness to fragile violence with utter integrity in the blink of an eye. In fact, such is her domination of this film that Tsukamoto’s own appearance within it ends up seeming like a cameo.

Cocco plays a young single mother with fragile mental health who is terrorised by the life around her. Tortured by the threat of strangers whose kindness or malevolence is present throughout, Kotoko’s own life has shrunk to her small apartment and her very young son Daijiro. When Daijiro is taken into the care of her sister, Cocco’s slow motion collapse speeds up, but the appearance of a persistent writer leads to hopes of change and reunion.Tsukamoto’s use of sound to unnerve and rupture the viewer is remarkable, and here the blaring of TVs and the intrusive cacophony of urban life is contrasted with moments of pastoral or dreamlike relief. He also returns to the war of the sexes that rages in his work, daringly presenting his character Tanaka as a therapeutic punchbag for Kotoko.

Still, whilst a lot of this new film is recognisable as being the work of the director, it’s hard not to see its freshness and unique emotional impact as being Cocco’s personal contribution. Kotoko is a startling collaboration, and the director’s best decision was to let his leading woman be and to express herself spontaneously and affectingly.Whilst this is a work that deals with self harm, mental health, violence and great sadness, there is bleak humour and a celebration of moments of peace and deliverance. One moment Kotoko will punch you in the gut, before showing you visions and expressions of relief the next. I can’t imagine many recent parents will find it therapeutic, although I can recommend that everyone should try to see it.

Kotoko is the best film I’ve seen this year and I suggest fans of visceral modern cinema seek it out urgently.

The Disc

Third Window release Kotoko on a region B coded disc containing just over 20 GB of content. There are two film related extras with an interview with Tsukamoto and the trailer. Tsukamoto talks about how he came to meet and work with Cocco (she provided the closing song for Vital), his admiration for her music and their collaboration here.

Despite the relatively small filesize of the transfer, Kotoko boasts a wonderful image. Colours pop when they are meant to, fine detail is intricate and compelling and the edges of objects and people have not been over-emphasised. Black levels are nigh perfect.The sound whilst not as elaborate a mix as many modern films, is beautifully reproduced here. The master audio mix covers the channels well and the detail in some of the effects work is quite incredible. The English subtitles have some slips in terms of grammar although they are always sensible.


A magnificent film with a wonderful transfer and strong sound. Extras are thin but this is a very strong release from Third Window.

John White

Updated: Sep 23, 2012

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