Japanese auteur and cult favourite Shinya Tsukamoto returns with “Kotoko”, combining the apocalyptic style of his classic “Tetsuo” films with the monstrous and terrifyingly intimate tale of a young single mother losing her mind in hallucinogenic and violent fashion. Taking on the difficult lead role is singer and songwriter Cocco, who previously worked with Tsukamoto back in 2004, providing the lead song for his morbidly beautiful “Vital”, and who here also co-scripted with the director as well as providing Art Direction and music. In addition to writing and directing, Tsukamoto also served as producer and editor, as well as playing one of the lead roles himself, adding a fascinatingly personal and artistic dimension to the film.
Coco plays the titular Kotoko, a single mother who struggles to take care of herself and her new born child. Tormented by frightening visions and often seeing hostile doubles of the people she meets, she frequently cuts herself with razors as a means of confirming that her body is still alive and hers. After her mental state deteriorates further, though she does her best to protect him, her baby is taken away and given to her sister to take care of in the peaceful country home where she lives with her husband and family. Kotoko tries desperately to bring her life back to normalcy, striking up a bizarre relationship with a man claiming to be her stalker (Tsukamoto), though again her emotions start to spiral out of control, and madness beckons.
Simply put, “Kotoko” is a masterpiece, and possibly Tsukamoto’s finest and most disturbing film to date, marrying the sound and fury of “Tetsuo” with a horribly believable domestic nightmare scenario. The film is an absolute assault on the senses from start to finish, using nerve shredding sound effects and highly creative camerawork to envelop the viewer in Kotoko’s daily torments. As a result, it’s far from easy viewing, though is gripping and engaging in way which grabs right from the first frame, digs in its claws and refuses to let go. Unsurprisingly, things get violent and grim, with some wince-inducing scenes of self-harm and torture, and the film is often excruciatingly painful to watch, even more so than the director’s earlier works.
At the same time though, the film is also stunningly artistic, and filled with moments of haunting beauty and poetry, Tsukamoto giving Cocco several chances to sing and to perform captivating though alarmingly primal dances. Her having worked on so many different creative aspects of the film with Tsukamoto gives it the feel of a partnership, and of two artists combining their visions.
If anything, the film is more punishing emotionally than physically, since although Kotoko is clearly heading rapidly down a one way street to insanity, she remains a sympathetic and human figure throughout, who the viewer hopes will somehow manage to find peace. Cocco is absolutely superb in the lead role, inhabiting her character and bringing her to utterly convincing life, displaying a dizzying array of conflicting and confused emotions from anger to terror, with giddy moments of ecstasy in-between. This is arguably the key to the film’s power, as what really terrifies is Tsukamoto’s refusal to provide any explanation for the reasons behind Kotoko’s madness, or indeed any easy definition of what is wrong with her. This fear of a lack of control or rationality fills the film from start to finish, her mood swings and violence attacking her like a bestial force of nature.
“Kotoko” is a near flawless triumph for both Tsukamoto and Cocco, and one of the most effective and unsettling portraits of madness seen in recent years. Though undeniably hard going and not an easy watch, it comes with the highest recommendation both for fans of the director and brave viewers who enjoy extreme cinema tempered with artistry.
Shinya Tsukamoto (director) / Cocco (original story), Shinya Tsukamoto (screenplay)
CAST: Shinya Tsukamoto … Seitaro Tanaka
Cocco … Kotoko