“Love Addiction” (ふゆの獣) – 2010 Tokyo FILMeX Review

Yukako, Saeko, Noboru and Shigehisa are two women and two men who could be archetypes for any 20-something searching for love this generation.  The four co-workers, all of whom struggle to suppress inner emotions for fear of appearing too obvious to their respective interests, are intertwined in more ways than one.  It is the dynamic of this complicated relationship that director Nobuteru Uchida captures so brilliantly in “Love Addiction.”

In his third feature film, Uchida wanted to “illustrate the ordeal called love.”  Of this topic, he added that “there are also times when personalities do not complement one another and human egos are exposed which invites situations that cannot be mended.”

Indeed, Uchida chooses not to create a back story, but to immediately throw the viewer into the present as a sort of voyeur eavesdropping on each of the characters.  Shot like a documentary with hand-held camerawork throughout, the film opens with a forlorn Yukako (Megumi Kato) stumbling through a subway station.  Her predicament, along with those of her three co-workers, is told through a series of flashbacks, some of which are used as storytelling devices between the characters.  Focusing completely on, at times, uncomfortably intimate facial expressions and dialogue, the natures of the relationships between Shigehisa (Shige for short, played by Hiroyuki Sato) and Yukako; Noboru (Kosuke Takaki) and Saeko (Momoko Maekawa); Yukako and Noberu; and finally all four characters are gradually revealed.  Yukako suspects that Shige is cheating on her, while Noboru – who is coincidentally wandering through the same train station that Yukako is – pines for Saeko but is rejected when she reveals that she is interested in someone else.

From here, feelings and conversations unravel.  What matters is not where these four people work, how they met or how they became interested in each other – none of these details is revealed – but rather, how they will deal with their current situations, which explode when they meet by chance outside the office.  Propelling their conflicted thoughts is strong acting across the board, particularly in Kato’s portrayal of Yukako as an emotionally fragile woman who longs for love and acceptance to the point that she cuts out her peripheral vision, and in Takaki’s of Noberu, a man who is tired of being jilted.  Sato as the aloof Shige and Maekawa as the somewhat naïve Saeko are less compelling, but provide a striking contrast to the raw emotions displayed by Yukako and Noberu.

At the end of the day, Yukako, Saeko, Noboru and Shigehisa have more questions than answers.  While for some, this may seem to be an unsatisfactory conclusion, the characters’ inner struggles are indicative of life in general, where emotions can often cloud better judgment, and where the high of being in love can prove to be so addictive that without it, one’s existence can feel suffocating.

“Love Addiction” won the Grand Prize in the 2010 Tokyo FILMeX Competition. For more information about the film and the Festival, go to filmex.net.