Piet Mondrian’s Dying Sunflower III (1908)
A GIRL MISSING (Yokogao) C-
Japan France (111 mi) 2019 d: Kôji Fukada Official site [Japan]
Following up on the fractured identity territory of Harmonium (Fuchi ni tatsu) (2016), creating another world where reality and horror intersect, evolving into yet another revenge saga, this film is similarly told in two parts, but both are presented simultaneously, jumping backwards and forwards in time, veering into a melodramatic hysteria that defies belief, with the lead protagonist going bonkers right before our eyes, defying expectations, becoming something else altogether. Mariko Tsutsui returns in a dual role, transformed from a highly compassionate individual to a vengeful soul, where she’s introduced as Risa Uchida, a morose recluse that identifies with the death and decay of Piet Mondrian’s “Dying Sunflower III (1908),” Rabih Alameddine on Twitter: "Piet Mondrian - Dying Sunflower I ... (click on third photo), finding herself gazing at a rotting flower while visiting an art museum, in stark contrast to the abundance of bright color found in Van Gogh, though perfectly reflective of her current mindset, having turned bitter and revengeful. She also appears as Ichiko Shirakawa, a kind and genuinely concerned caregiver, seen as a nurse for the elderly and terminally ill, caring for Tôko Oishi (Ookata Hisako), an elderly artist, becoming a role model and integral part of her wealthy family, remaining close with her granddaughters, the older, more serious Motoko (Mikako Ichikawa) and Saki (Miyu Ogawa), a high school student, tutoring Motoko for the nursing exam while helping Saki with her math homework. The jumps back and forth are jarring and confusing, offering the impression of a personality disorder, yet the telling of the story is also exaggerated and extreme, wildly over the edge, like a cheap exploitative drama. The violent mood swings are a bit over the top, like Risa getting down on all fours and barking like a dog, where some may be laughing hysterically while others might cringe at what they see, as it’s almost a parody of the restrained and orderly depiction of a stable Japanese society. The extent to which it accentuates a modern malaise, particularly the hyper-intrusive media and the way they infiltrate and disrupt otherwise normal lives, planting themselves on people’s doorsteps, constantly screaming out intensely personal questions that no one in their right mind would answer, literally destroying any traces left of normalcy, suggests an epic tragedy, like the opening of a Pandora’s Box where we can’t return the harm done back into the bottle.
Fukada has a habit of crafting layered stories about flawed individuals where seemingly small mistakes blow up in their face with dire consequences that are totally out of proportion to the initial error in judgment. With a script that appears weak, one of the problems of the film is how unengaged people are, where everyone feels emotionally disaffected, with no one seeming to enjoy themselves, as instead it’s a portrayal of empty lives filled with endless drudgery. Ichiko’s life seems content, engaged to a wealthy and successful physician, Dr. Totsuka (Mitsuru Fukikoshi), though he seems more of a father figure than a fiancé, yet she carefully balances her work with the existing relationship, maintaining the respect of her coworkers, yet she doesn’t seem to realize the extent of the affection Motoko has for her, bordering on the sexual, often inadvertently hurting her feelings. This doesn’t seem to matter that much until an incident changes everything, as Saki is kidnapped for a week by a man she never sees, returned unharmed and apparently unfazed, but Ichiko is shocked to see news footage revealing the abductor was none other than her nephew Tatsuo (Sudo Ren). Recalling in horror that she was the one that introduced Tatsuo to Sako, and was with him in the moments just before Saki vanished. Ichiko is consumed by guilt, even though she had nothing to do with the crime, and is ready to speak to the police until Motoko talks her out of it, not wanting her to be connected to the scandal, as it could come at a cost, like her job, and Motoko doesn’t want to lose her from the family inner circle. However, once the media gets hold of the details it becomes a tabloid sensation, publishing explosive headlines, “TERROR NURSE: Did She Plan the Kidnapping?” It soon turns into a media circus as frenzied reporters surround Ichiko wherever she goes, literally hounding her day and night, no longer feeling safe in her own home. From there things go downhill, as she’s immediately fired from her job, yet Dr. Totsuka initially thinks the intended marriage can endure a public scandal. But when Motoko talks to the press, revealing a private story told to her by Ichiko about her nephew, of course taken out of context, turning her into a sex pervert, all bets are off, as nothing can withstand that kind of avalanche of public scorn and repudiation, with news reports plastered round the clock all over the airwaves, becoming the most despised woman in the country.
The director shows little interest in the actual crime, delving instead into the horrific consequences, becoming a manic roller-coaster ride of losing one’s grip with reality. Changing her name and her persona, even dying her hair color green, the aftermath of the scandal leaves a bitter taste in Risa’s mouth, particularly when she was rejected by a victim support organization, as she was not the target of a crime. Her life divided by whether it happened before or after the traumatic incident, the kind and generous qualities of Ichiko have dramatically disappeared, still fuming about what happened, with surrealistic revenge fantasies occurring in her head, shifting the audience’s perception of reality, which has nearly disappeared altogether, instead consumed with malicious intentions. Early on we see her make an appointment with a handsome young hairdresser, Kazumichi (Ikematsu Sosuke), displaying a surprising level of intimacy that positively shocks the young man. Not only do they have repeated sexual liaisons afterwards, but Risa curiously rents an apartment overlooking his, spying on him obsessively and monitoring his every move. Only after a period of time do we realize he is Motoko’s boyfriend, showing a much more intense passion for Ichiko than he ever receives. Nonetheless Risa stalks this man with a deviously understated rage, turning into a hilarious moment when her vindictive plot backfires, emailing graphic sexual evidence of their affair to Motoko, but this barely concerns Kazumichi, who’s not upset in the least, having broken up with her ages ago. This only begins to explain how irrationally off-kilter this film gets, often making little sense, losing all contact with reality, feeling more than a little disoriented and disconnected, with Risa continually plunging into a netherworld consumed by a mad hatred, falling deeper into a labyrinthian trap of darkness that swallows her whole, losing control of her own fate. Unable to stop this obsessional drive, Risa is destroyed by a crime she never committed, yet she’s driven to feel the brunt of the blame, perhaps having something to do with how women are perceived in Japanese society, largely subservient to their own circumstances, never in control of their own fate, viewed as significantly less than who they are. So even if she’s driven to sort out the chaos of her past, she’ll be blamed anyway.