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Asian cinema: Japanese films

Birds Without Names film review: Yu Aoi plays it nasty in dark relationship drama

Aoi gives a boldly despicable turn as a physically and emotionally abusive woman in director Kazuya Shiraishi’s grim, nihilistic drama set in modern-day Osaka

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 23 May, 2018, 7:03am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 23 May, 2018, 7:03am

3/5 stars

Love is the root of all evil – or so you might surmise from Birds Without Names.

In the latest film by Kazuya Shiraishi (Dawn of the Felines), Yu Aoi plays against type as the bitter and spiteful Tawako, who lives off the meagre handouts her doting yet horrifically unappreciated boyfriend Jinji (Sadao Abe) can afford to give her.

It has been eight years since Tawako was beaten and abandoned by her ex-boyfriend Shunichi (Yutaka Takenouchi), yet she still pines for him and the glamorous lifestyle he shared with her, albeit fleetingly. She dulls this pain by starting a fling with the equally slimy Makoto (Tori Matsuzaka) while abusing Jinji physically and emotionally every chance she gets.

Based on the novel of the same name by Mahokaru Numata, the film paints modern-day Osaka as a grim, industrial purgatory, every bit as poisoned and wicked as the individuals who populate it. While Tawako is brutalised, smothered and exploited by the men in her life, there is a wickedness within her that prohibits us from sympathising with her spiralling plight.

When Tawako discovers that Shunichi went missing some time ago, the story takes a turn into even darker territory, from which none of these characters are likely to emerge unscathed.

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Shiraishi is no stranger to the dark side of human nature, and teases out some impressive performances from his cast. Aoi gives a boldly despicable turn as Tawako, while Abe’s character proves a pathetic mutt, as fiercely loyal as he is physically repulsive. The film presents a boldly nihilistic world view without anyone to root for, yet it does so with impressive craft and commitment.

Birds Without Names opens on May 24

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