Whenever I see a film that is on a subject that I know is controversial, I try to place myself in at least the headspace of the main character (when able to) to see if I can connect and resonate with their choices and actions throughout the movie. However, Takeshi Kushida’s Woman of the Photographs focuses on a photographer developing a relationship with a woman who’s experiencing body dysmorphia and the film spirals into something metaphoric and horrifying. .As someone who hasn’t experienced anything even remotely similar, it was hard to resonate with either character, however their performances certainly amplify the deep want for human connection and the haunting horrors that come with body dysmorphia. The film as a whole certainly is miscategorized as a horror film and is more of an experimental exploration into a mental health crisis that is exploited on a horror scale and it struggles to find its footing.
While Woman of the Photographs boasts some exceptionally beautiful cinematography that is truly mesmerizing and gorgeous, along with some incredible dance movements, the performances lack the depth to capture the audience and create a reaction that would leave them to linger on and think about the film after the credits roll. While there is a subplot that ties into the main plot of social media and the world we now find ourselves consumed in, it is almost a more engaging storyline than the main plot of body dysmorphia. That is not to say that either is less engaging, because once the body dysmorphia plot gets going, it truly becomes horrifying to see the reality of what people who suffer from this go through and what they believe their image is versus what society sees. But it becomes increasingly more difficult to watch for someone who does not understand what this character is experiencing and, while it is horrifying to watch, it crosses that line of uncomfortable that is hard to come back from.
The film focuses on Kai (Hideki Nagal) who is a reclusive photographer who takes photographs and retouches them as his clients ask. He seems to rarely speak a word and mainly stays to himself, this is until he meets Kyoko (Hsuki Otaki) who’s a social media influencer and needs Kai’s help after an injury to keep up her social identity. At first, the touch-ups are just that, to ensure that she doesn’t appear to have the injuries she sustained. However, this quickly morphs into changes that make her look almost like a different person entirely. Constantly changing her figure, features, and even her face, she slowly is forcing herself to become something she sees instead of what she is actually in reality.
On the other side of this story though, is a blossoming relationship between Kai and Kyoko that challenges their mishmashed personalities. Kyoko is this outgoing spirit who needs to live her life through a lens of other people’s perspectives, and Kai literally lives his life through a lens and explores life by photographing people. The juxtaposition of their personalities certainly brings to life both sides of each part of society, the poster and the lurker, per say, as society views them both differently. As the film progresses, the landscape certainly changes and everything they’ve worked for becomes seemingly meaningless.
There is something so uneasy about realism in films that the suspense of disbelief gets abolished because the film is grounded and concepts that are common enough to create this unease. Both Hideki Nagal and Hsuki Otaki manage to capitalize on this realism and, using a minimalist approach, and create a world of unease with the lack of dialogue, the sicknesses of the characters seeping through and overtaking their lives. Watching Kai agree to help, and, in a way, almost encourage Kyoko’s behavior, is stomach-churning, while watching Kyoko peel away, literally and figuratively, her imperfections is one of the most cringe-worthy and uncomfortable things I have seen in quite sometime. Woman of the Photographs boasts a realism to its horror and creates something that is less horrifying in a traditional sense and more horrifying to the bubbles we try to hide ourselves in to escape the horrifying realities we truly live in.
In select theaters February 3rd, 2023.
Available on VOD and digital February 7th, 2023.
For more information, head to Dread Central’s Woman in the Photographs webpage.
Final Score: 3 out of 5.
Categories: Home Video, Reviews, streaming
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