Yuichi Sato’s “Kisaragi” – 2008 Japan Cuts Review

Celebrity conspiracy meets fan club mania in a cleverly-crafted feature called “Kisaragi,” the closing film of this year’s Japan Cuts Festival in New York City.

A year has passed since the death of Miki Kisaragi, best described as what the British would call a “glamour model,” and five obsessed male fans – Strawberry Girl, Snake, Yasuo, Yuji Oda and Iemoto (the self-proclaimed “world’s leading Miki expert”) – who have never previously met have gathered to…celebrate? Commemorate? Commiserate? Somehow the exclusive use of one of these verbs does not neatly describe this strange “party” where these five characters use aliases (in this case, the names that they use to post on an online message board for Miki). But then one of them, Oda, eventually reveals that he has spent a year amassing information on what he believes is not Miki’s suicide, but her murder, launching the group’s conversation from obsessed fans’ behavior to an angry session of assumptions and accusations.

It’s an interesting take on a whodunit due to the fact that the men’s worship of the star constantly pokes at and interferes with their ability to think objectively. Throughout the movie, a simultaneous tone of lightheartedness and creepiness (it is, after all, the anniversary of Miki’s death) remains a constant, particularly when the characters’ true identities begin to unravel from beneath their guarded surfaces. As the men physically and verbally joust through their respective thought processes, emotionally they still pine for their fallen idol’s love, even a year after her passing.

Near the end, “Kisaragi” threatens to chug along a cheesy path of horribly-attempted Zen, but what saves it is the ending, which brings the “celebrity conspiracy” angle full circle; sit through the credits and it will somehow make sense. Add some thoughtfully shot flashback sequences, and “Kisaragi” becomes a film just as eccentric as its main characters, while making the statement that no matter how much one seeks the truth, the answers to life’s mysteries aren’t always neatly packaged in a box.

Directed by Yuichi Sato, “Kisaragi” closes the Japan Cuts Festival on July 13 at 5:30 p.m. For ticket information, go to the Japan Society Web site.