“Lowlife Love” is a failure of a film — and that’s a compliment. In many cases, its scenes are trite, its characters are shallow, and its transitions feel forced. But when you step back and think, you realize maybe that’s the point.
Failure is the essence of “Lowlife Love”. At the center of this 2016 black comedy is Tetsuo, a 39 year-old who fancies himself a film director but in reality is an unemployed lowlife. Though he had a small indie film hit many years ago, Tetsuo hasn’t made any movies since. Instead, he runs an “actors school” in which he sexually harasses students, all in the name of “making them stars”.
Hope briefly flashes on the horizon when two new members arrive at his “actors school”: Ken, a sensitive screenwriter, and Minami, a naive aspiring actress. Tetsuo realizes Ken holds a brilliant script and Minami holds untapped talent — two elements that could help him resuscitate his moribund career. Taking the two under his exploitative fold, Tetsuo starts trying to get a new film project off the ground.
Alas, this is a film about failure — so it’s really not a spoiler to say that things don’t go well for Tetsuo. “Lowlife Love” spends most of its time tracing the sputtering arc of his failure, skewering the Japanese film industry in the process. If you think Tetsuo is despicable, wait until you see the other producers and directors he’s competing against. Apparently all the men involved in the Japanese film industry are sexual predators, and all the women are sluts who screw their way upwards.
There’s something about every character in “Lowlife Love” that makes you cringe. Many characters — Tetsuo included — are one-dimensional, underdeveloped husks who serve as nothing more than window dressing to a world so ridiculously dark that it seems absurd. There are so many uninspired career-driven sex scenes in “Lowlife Love” that the film seems to embody one of its own messages, that the line between “artistic” film and porn is not so clear. The plot chugs along haphazardly, and ends on a rather anticlimactic note. If you take all that at face value, there are many reasons to not like this movie.
However, it’s through failure that “Lowlife Love” conveys meaning, or rather the lack thereof. This is the type of film that provides much of its value after you finish, when you sit back and contemplate what the hell you just watched. When you reflect upon “Lowlife Love”, you realize that maybe its flat characters and overplayed sex scenes are the most vivid embodiments possible of the world it wants to skewer — that by making you cringe and groan, “Lowlife Love” proves its point, and brilliantly so. Making films is the opposite of romantic; it is a meaningless enterprise for failures and fools. And only a foolhardy failure of a film can make you believe that.
Lowlife Love (Japanese: 下衆の愛)–Japan. Dialog in Japanese. Directed by Eji Uchida. First released April 2016. Running time 1hr 50min. Starring Kiyohiko Shibukawa, Shugo Oshinari, Maya Okano, and Chika Uchida.
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