Director Katsuya Matsumura, famed for his decade spanning All Night Long series bridges the gap between social fixations and psychological horror once more, in this rather straight forward tale of one’s obsession with beauty, as they attempt to attain perfection in line with their own imperfect ideals. Kirei? [Beautiful?] plays off of the kind of social attitudes that the media regularly rams into our faces: that beauty seems to be dictated by fame and fortune.
One corrupt surgeon once said: We’re like modern day alchemists. We turn women’s faces into gold.”
That was probably made up, but if I had a pound for every film I’ve seen that has some kind of running commentary about people trying to improve their lives I’d probably have quite a few pounds, and with kind of money I could buy the things I’ve always wanted, like those dancing coke cans, a lava lamp and even one of those electric ball thingies, that when you touch it the little bits of lightning stick to your fingers.
Based upon the novel by Kei Yuikawa, Kirei? follows plastic surgeon Yoko Noguchi (Yukiko Okamoto), a beautiful and skilled twenty-something who runs her own reputable surgery. She is currently seeing a doctor named Nomura (Kota Kusano) and things couldn’t be better for her, but when a young, facially disfigured woman named Yoshie (Asuka Kurosawa) enters her life she finds herself heading down a path of no return. Yoshie asks of Yoko to make her beautiful, presenting an impressive amount of cash, but laying down an ultimatum: that her surgery will only be carried out after hours and in private. Although an unusual request Yoko agrees due to Yoshie’s insistence of paying far more than she needs to in order to get the job done. After Yoko successfully completes Yoshie’s surgery she gets back to her normal life, which is about to be interrupted once more. Yoshie returns, this time requesting work to be done on her body, again shoving loads of money in Yoko’s face. Still Yoshie isn’t happy and when Yoko finally decides that enough is enough she inadvertently drives the disturbed woman over the edge, endangering her colleagues and her own life...
Matsumura sets up Kirei? with a clear sense of direction, even going so far as to signpost plot points a bit too regularly; for example Yoko’s disgraceful attitude toward “ugly people” and her sheer egotism means that she’s perfect fodder for those she fears, and early on Nomura says to Yoko that he could never sleep with a woman like Yoshie. Ding, ding, ding...But this is the point. Matsumura addresses the shallowness of the human heart and our force fed pre-conceptions of what real beauty is. However, we’re looking at something veering towards horror and as such the director never makes an effort to provide something more comforting, meaning that he never sugar coats his picture and says that people can be beautiful on the inside, so in that respect he avoids the usual cliché that we can often come to expect. Instead he leans toward a far harsher reality and develops the film into a voyeuristic stalk and slash affair, whereby Yoshie carries out a number of evil deeds, while insanity casts its ever tightening grip over her. As standard as that might sound Matsumura rather cleverly uses Yoshie as a metaphorical device, which is clearly reflected upon toward the end of the film; she has no real identity and she could indeed be anybody. And that appears to be his ultimate goal, in pointing out that there are women like Yoshie all over the world, who would give up a lot if it meant they could look beautiful. Sure, they might not become crazed murderers, but the director has to have some kind of pull here.
Moreover he depicts Yoshie’s state of mind as being the result of a disease known as Dysmorphophobia - a fear of deformity. He shows the inner struggle that people deal with when faced with bodily flaws, serious or not: Their mind has become so engulfed by paranoia that no matter what surgery they have done to them, no matter how many times, they’ll never be truly happy. It’s a sad state of affairs and one that the director does well to establish, avoiding pretentiousness thanks to some low key areas. Not only does he tackle this aspect, but so too does he set out to question such morality behind medical ethics. Should we tamper with nature, or does it simply not matter when money appears to provide the answer to everyone’s troubles? When do we realise how far we’ve taken things and when we pass a certain point is there really no turning back? It no doubt seems that there’s an overwhelming supply of questions to be asked, with perhaps answers that only we as individuals can ever answer.
Shot on digital tape Kirei? has that obvious sterile look to it, which is perhaps most apt given its clinical surroundings, minimal locations and steady approach. Matsumura’s film deals with characters first and foremost, while for key scenes he injects some welcoming bouts of physical horror, most of which stems from scenes involving surgery. It’s no surprise, then, that the make-up work looks quite remarkable given the budget constraints and the director’s previous track record. They never overstep the mark, remaining quite subtle, yet effective. Neither of a surprise is the amount of nudity on display, with Yukiko Okamoto brandishing her nice petite breasts as she simulates a few sex scenes, while even Asuka Kurosawa (who viewers may be more familiar with from Shinya Tsukamoto’s Snake of June) gets to bare all for the lads; that being inevitable given the circumstances of her character. But one suspects that Matsumura is merely being a little exploitative for the sake of it, getting carried away at times, particularly when Okamoto’s scenes do nothing to drive the story along. Not sure why I’m complaining, mind. But credit where credit’s due, the performances from both Okamoto and Kurosawa are solid. Okamoto manages to deliver a perfectly shallow character who doesn’t ever earn our sympathy, while Kurosawa, for all her disturbing quirks, imbues Yoshie with a natural persona that quite rightly earns our pity.
Framed around 1.78:1 Kirei? is given anamorphic treatment by Terra, but remains another standards conversion. Matsumura appears to be using natural lighting for the most part, relying on sunlight seeping through curtains and lamps to brighten up certain scenes or provide silhouettes for the actors. Generally it’s a low lit picture with many dark scenes and the transfer struggles from time to time. Being that the film is a DV production it’s quite clean looking, but there are side effects as a result of simple authoring to disc. Night time scenes offer weak black levels and high contrast, while those featuring bright lighting tend to suffer from banding and strobe effects. Throughout the picture there’s a faint line to the left side of the screen, in addition to horizontal and low-level noise.
The only track available is Japanese DD 2.0, though I believe it’s the original. There’s nothing to get excited about here, due to the front channels carrying all of the weight, but furthermore because the film isn’t heavily reliant on sound. There’s no real score so to speak of; just the occasional whisper from Teruo Tokahama which works in its favour, while dialogue does offer plenty of clarity.
Optional English subtitles are included and they offer a good translation, with no noticeable errors this time around as far as I can tell.
Aside from a trailer for the film we get a Making Of piece that runs for twenty minutes. We’re taken behind the scenes of this ten day shoot for key sequences, from Yoko and Yoshie’s first meeting and onto some of the more expositional ones; one scene involves a two and a half page take by Kurosawa, which is quite interesting. When we get half way we’re presented with some interviews from Yaku Hiyafuina (Hitomi), Miki Asakura (Saeki) and Mami Nakamura (Mari) who talk about their characters, make-up effects, messages that the film presents and experiences on set. From here much of the focus is on the film’s climax, including the wrap and opinions from its two lead stars.
Those expecting the kind of visceral horrors seen in Matsumura’s previous outings should take note that here the director is making something of a departure. Kirei? is a quietly disturbing film that presents the horrors of a superficial society, without feeling the need to emphasize it by shoving a deluge of nasty visuals in our face; though what there is may still turn weak stomachs. Despite the main events almost being by the numbers it’s a well directed feature that offers a little more by the way of food for thought.
Last updated: 19/04/2018 02:55:44