Stars: Kiyohiko Shibukawa, Maya Okano, Shugo Oshinari | Written and Directed by Eiji Uchida
When you decide to delve into Asian cinema, it is like a treasure trove sometimes. Sure, there are many genres such as horror that dominate sometimes, but there are also many more waiting to be discovered. One such treasure is Lowlife Love aka Gesu no ai, which is a must for fans of the filmmaking process.
Tetsuo (Kiyohiko Shibukawa) is a lowlife film director living off the fame of his one hit indie movie he made years ago. Now thirty-nine he refuses to move from the indie scene as it would go against his ‘artistic integrity’. Abusing his actors and fast losing their trust, it is not until Minami (Maya Okano) arrives at his film school that his true love of film is reignited. When he loses Minami to the corrupt world of filmmaking though, his world begins to unravel.
Kiyohiko Shibukawa plays the part of Tetsuo very well, meaning that at the start of the film it is very easy to hate him. He uses the promise of film parts to have sex with actresses, who are just as delusional with the movie industry that they ply the same trade to make it as a star. In fact, the film starts off in a situation that can’t get much darker.
In losing Minami to a bigger director, Tetsuo has a revelation of a kind and as a result becomes a much likeable character. It comes as no surprise that this is the point where he starts to go through hell, as his redemption does have an element of karma based on his past action. What this gives Shibukawa though is an interesting character to build on, and one for the audience to actually enjoy. A complicated man, it is surprising just how likeable he becomes.
Lowlife Love is actually a story of three characters, Tetsuo, Minami, and Ken (Shugo Oshinari) a script writer who Tetsuo just tries to use up, in the same way he does Minami. It is the relationship between these three that is the catalyst for the change in Tetsuo. It comes at the cost of Minami’s innocence, which of course can be mostly blamed by the director.
The tone of Lowlife Love is one of dark comedy, which has been seen in the past from director and writer Eiji Uchida in movies like Greatful Dead. It is the similar offbeat feel, and the way the director satirises the no-budget film industry, showing the nasty underbelly of the film scene that makes this film so interesting to watch.
The view we are given of the movie world is one we may not like, but at least we have Tetsuo’s redemption that is so tantalising to watch. Any movie lover will find it easy to understand his love of the art. We just don’t have to love the character that we first meet.
What makes Lowlife Love work is that it is an unflinching tale of a director who represents the dark side of the movie industry. It takes a look at the scene as a whole and is an eye opener in the way it not only highlights the questionable actions of the directors and producers, but also the actors too. In a sea, full of ravenous sharks, Tetsuo represents hope which may be what this film actually represents. That there can still be love for film, and not just the profits that can be made out of it.
Lowlife Love is available in the UK on DVD and Blu-ray now.