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Asian cinema: Japanese films

The Limit of Sleeping Beauty film review: soft-core porn meets Japanese art-house cinema in kaleidoscopic clubland fantasy

Chronicle of a struggling actress’ escapist fantasies contains touches of brilliance, but too often it looks like a 1980s music video, and director misses a chance to tap #MeToo zeitgeist with some redemptive female empowerment

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 30 May, 2018, 9:00pm
UPDATED : Wednesday, 30 May, 2018, 9:00pm

2/5 stars

Japan has one of the world’s most prolific independent film scenes, one where soft-core pornography and eccentric auteurism regularly go hand in hand. The Limit of Sleeping Beauty falls squarely into this category, chronicling as it does the escapist fantasies of a struggling actress hoping to flee Tokyo’s clubland underworld.

Since arriving in Tokyo 10 years earlier, Aki (Yuki Sakurai) has been making ends meet working as a magician’s assistant. She performs at the Aurora Circus, a flophouse for runaways and outcasts, owned by Aki’s lover, Kaito (Issey Takahashi). But since his suicide, she has been losing her grip on reality, and escapes into an alternate reality in which she is a lauded celebrity.

The kaleidoscopic narrative interweaves a number of fractured timelines – some real, others merely the delusions of a lonely and desperate woman. Aki is shadowed by Butch (Niino Furuhata), a bald clown who embodies the brazen alter ego Aki cannot find the courage to become. Instead, she pines for her lost love and fantasises about landing her dream role of Ophelia in a movie reworking of Hamlet.

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There are touches of brilliance throughout Ken Ninomiya’s film, not least a climactic asylum shoot-out that literally explodes into clouds of coloured dust. Too often, however, the film plays more like a 1980s music video, locking onto Sakurai’s hypnotic visage through an endless montage of bric-a-brac and fairy lights.

Aki’s perpetual exploitation and harassment provide a perfect platform to scrutinise sexual harassment in the film industry, but any message of female agency and empowerment is lost as the protagonist slides into a schizophrenic soft-core purgatory.

The Limit of Sleeping Beauty opens on May 31

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