TIFF ’11: Kotoko

Posted: September 25, 2011 in Film Reviews, Toronto International Film Festival
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A scene from KotokoPostpartum depression is a serious mental illness that affects an estimated 13 per cent of mothers. Symptoms include problems sleeping and thoughts of suicide, and it can have a negative impact on a child’s development. It’s unclear when Kotoko’s illness began, but it appears to have become significantly worse since the birth of her son.

Kotoko (Cocco) is a single mother. She has terrifying hallucinations of strangers attacking her and her baby every time she ventures outside the apartment. As a result, they’ve had to move a lot. She’s also a cutter, describing it as a test of her body’s will to live. Eventually she meets a man (Shin’ya Tsukamoto) convinced he can save her from herself, but their relationship is a twisted match of sadism and masochism that can’t end well.

The ending of the picture is incredibly fitting for a psychological mystery. Throughout the story, it’s difficult to always decipher what is reality and what is fantasy. Some things seem too absurd to represent an actual event, while others are entirely believable. But they are all so interwoven into her experience that they are not always differentiated by a noticeable change in style. Even Kotoko’s voiceover narrative is not always capable of distinguishing between fact and fiction. Though unsettling, these elements combine for an edge-of-your-seat, mouth gaping, enthralling film experience.

Cocco is a folk rock singer that unleashes a side of herself fans were likely completely unaware even existed. The character often sings to calm her nerves, but this role required so much more than a pretty voice. She convincingly portrays a frantic, desperate, loving woman who is often confused but trying her best to do what’s needed. Writer/director/actor Tsukamoto, on the other hand, is well versed in the psychological drama. The filmmaker has taken on similar triple duty on the Tetsuo and Nightmare Detective films.

Finally, Tsukamoto creates a frenetic atmosphere in which Kotoko lives, breathes and panics. The soundtrack is unnerving, the camera is constantly moving and the shots are too close; particularly in contrast to her moments of peace that are full framed, wide angled and infrequent.  It is these stylistic choices that truly inform the tone of the film.

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