I always get a certain feeling of intrigue when a Foreign director helms a movie with Asian performers shot in an Asian land. Spanish director Isabel Coixet has declared her fascination with Japanese culture and the citizens of this country; she was so taken by this woman who worked in a fish market that she began to develop a story behind her. What results is “Map of the Sounds of Tokyo” (2009) that Coixet helms with a very Japanese cast led by stunning Rinko Kikuchi (Babel) and Spanish actor Sergi Lopez (Pan’s Labyrinth). At first look, one can see the usual tale of an assassin who falls in love with the mark, but there is actually something much more that is easy to overlook.
This film had competed in the main contest in the 62nd Cannes film festival.
An unnamed old man (Min Tanaka) narrates his innocent relationship with a woman who works in a fish market named Ryu (Rinko Kikuchi). The two usually meet to enjoy a meal or do some chores such as cleaning specific graves in a local cemetery; very little is said between them but they have bond that goes beyond conversation. The reason why Ryu doesn’t say much is because she is a hit woman and those graves are the ones that belonged to her past victims; and her latest assignment now is a Spanish wine store owner named David (Sergi Lopez). Ryu had been hired by a rich businessman (Takeo Nakahara) whose daughter Midori had committed suicide over this Spanish man. However, as if fate was playing games after they get done slurping ramen, David and Ryu begin to have an affair, they begin to meet in a love hotel and have a lot of intercourse. Now, Ryu is now set on returning the money for she wishes no part in killing her mark.
This film is one odd cookie and definitely different, it is a film about a female assassin and yet, it doesn’t have the ingredients of an action film such as “Nikita” and feels more like “Last Tango of Paris”, albeit somewhat lacking with its reverberation. The direction has a melancholy tone about it and the screenplay has the occasional symbolism; Coixet knows how to play with its visuals as this art house film does look very pretty. Yes, I liked the way she executes her slow-pacing and the narration by an unnamed old man (played by Min Tanaka) adds some art house charm to its proceedings. This is a film that shows how silence can indeed communicate more than dialogue at certain times (I was reminded of Tony Takitani), that whatever is unspoken can be seen as ‘comfort’ and an odd form of friendship.
“Map of the Sounds of Tokyo” is a tale of loneliness, lust, guilt and how love can sometimes sneak up on the most unexpected time and places. I guess one can say that this film endorses the healing powers of sex, as our two protagonists are seen in quite a few simulated scenes that are very sexy and HOT. Coixet knows how to arouse the male and female gene; I know Kikuchi does not have a perfect body (but for me, she is hot) nor does she look that seductive in this film, and I suppose that is what makes her feel ‘real’ and believable. Kikuchi looks amazing in those sex scenes and she is not shy to go totally nude (as in Babel), Kikuchi portrays her character as someone who seems afraid and uncertain and yet the more Ryu partakes of it, the more she feels comfortable. Lopez on the other hand may not seem to be the charmer, I rather thought that he wasn’t convincing as a charmer, but I suppose even his hairy chest makes him a suitable “art house stud“. The two looked like two normal people just having sex and boy, the softcore scenes were just smoking hot, even though they were short.
Alright, I guess I’ve given the film all the praise it deserves. I suppose even though the chemistry between the two was good, I had some issues with some of the film’s other connections. The dialogue between the two felt flat (I can look past the two not speaking their native tongue, but the dialogue itself was empty), which is why I didn’t think Lopez as a charmer; so by the time we see Ryu changing her mind about the assignment, I saw it as something that came from left field. Hey, but perhaps it wasn’t about Ryu buying into David’s charms, but rather how she needed companionship or maybe just someone to play with. I rather thought that the film could’ve used more development with its supporting cast and the undeclared love Ishida (Hideo Sakaki) had for Midori should’ve been more explored upon.
I guess “Map of the Sounds of Tokyo” is a film intended for a certain audience. It is accessible but I think its themes and the 'too subtle" form of an execution may prove a little different for commercial viewers. I liked the film but I really didn’t find that the film had something intricate or special to say; it all feels a little superficial after all is said and done. I suppose it lacked the excitement of “Nikita” and proved a bit too ponderous as with Coixet’s “The Secret Life of Words”. Now this isn’t a bad film at all, but make sure you know what you are in for. Yes, Rinko Kikuchi is just stunning; there is just something about her.
Timid Recommendation [3+ Out of 5 Stars]
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