Taboo-breaking Japanese drama in which a man starts a destructive affair with his young adopted daughter…
As with all Lolita themed films, Japanese director Kumakiri Kazuyoshi’s My Man generated a fair amount of controversy at home and on the festival circuit – unsurprisingly, given that it deals with the unsavoury subject of the obsessive sexual relationship between a father and his adopted daughter. Based on a serialised novel by Sakuraba Kazuki, the film stars Asano Tadanobu (Ichi the Killer) and Nikaido Fumi (Himizu) in the difficult lead roles, and despite its potentially off-putting subject matter won various awards, including the Golden George at the 36th Moscow International Film Festival.
Set on the island of Hokkaido, the film begins with the ten year old Hana being adopted Jungo (Asano Tadanobu), a distant relative who adopts her as her daughter after her entire family is killed in a devastating tsunami. A few years later, and Hana (now played by Nikaido Fumi) has clearly developed a strange and intense bond with Jungo, which slowly but surely turns physical and obsessive. Inevitably, their forbidden affair is discovered, with tragic results for all concerned.
My Man is a resolutely art house affair right from the first frame, and it’s likely this, even more so than the subject matter, which will determine whether or not viewers take to it. Slow paced and deliberate, it’s an obtuse and ambiguous film throughout, with Kumakiri Kazuyosh taking a decidedly distant approach to his characters. Much is hinted at along the way, including a potentially incestuous family connection, and there’s symbolism a-plenty (notably a soft rain of blood during a sex scene) as well as a series of long shots of the protagonists staring into the distance or at the icy sea.
To be fair, this is all quite well-handled, and Kumakiri directs without fuss or pretension, and the film comes across as non-judgemental rather than trying to either make grand statements or pose indecipherable riddles. It’s certainly a beautifully shot film, both during the scenes on snowy, gorgeously bleak Hokkaido and later in dark, rubbish strewn and neon lit Tokyo, and the atmospheric visuals subtly underscore the changes in the characters’ unravelling minds. Featuring many stretches without dialogue, the film is nevertheless quietly gripping and sinister, with a slow-burn tension that gradually mounts throughout, even though there’s never any real danger of a happy ending. There is of course a great deal of sex, most of it graphic, though it’s all tastefully shot and the film never
A film like this is very dependent on the performances of its leads, and thankful both Fumi Nikaidō and Tadanobu Asano are more than up to the task, her winning International Rising Star Award for this film at New York Asian Film Festival and Best Actress at 6th TAMA Film Awards, and him taking Best Actor at Moscow. Fumi in particular impresses, and on the strength of this and Himizu it’s easy to see why she’s being hailed by many as one of Japan’s most talented and promising young actresses, making Hana’s transformation both captivating and disturbing.
Though absolutely not for everyone, My Man is nevertheless an accomplished piece of art house cinema. Challenging, provocative and exceptionally well-acted, the film offers a fascinatingly clinical take on what could have been a very distasteful subject, and makes for a powerfully dark meditation on the destructive power of love.