Greetings again from the darkness. The temptation here is to compare director William Olsson’s latest film to FIFTY SHADES OF GREY. While the two films do share the foundation of best-selling adult erotica novels, this film is darker and grittier, and doesn’t treat the lead as a cartoon character. Catherine Hanrahan wrote both the novel and the screenplay, a likely contributing factor to the more grounded feel to the setting and characters.
Alexandra Daddario stars as Margaret, a young woman living on her own in Tokyo. She works days as an English “pronunciation” teacher at a Flight Attendant Academy. In the evening she imbibes at a local dive bar with other ex-pats (Carice van Houten, Andrew Rothney) before heading out under the neon lights in search of that night’s partner at one of the “love hotels”. Margaret is burning the candle at both ends to an extreme. Her alcohol intake would put most sailors to shame. Is Margaret looking for the meaning of life or just trying to forget? That’s the answer we spend most of the story trying to answer.
One day Margaret meets Kazu (played by Takehiro Hira), a dashing Yakuza (organized crime) member. She quickly falls under his spell, and the two have a lustful, fast-moving connection. Of course, traditions being what they are, the relationship can never be the same for Kazu as it is for Margaret. In other words, she finally found love, but with the wrong guy. Margaret as narrator offers up wisdom such as, “I tell myself there are no happy endings.” “Things are ragged and messy.” These sentiments perfectly describe her life.
Margaret is challenging to figure out. We feel her pain and confusion and desperation, though we never fully understand what’s driving it. She’s ‘happy and sad’, and more than just another pretty face. In fact, this dark world of loneliness and sex finds her starting in a bad place and then sinking lower. However, director Olsson and cinematographer Kenji Katori ensure the film is stylish and atmospheric, and no matter how ugly things get for Margaret, the film itself is quite something to look at.
This is a side of Tokyo we don’t often see, and the love hotels are a sub-culture that set up perfectly for those who have lost hope or control of their life. The beautiful city seems to prey on some … no matter how beautiful they are. Kudos to Alexander Daddario for taking on this role. She’s been around for a while with memorable appearances in “True Detective” (Season One), SAN ANDREAS (2015), and BAYWATCH (2017). It’s nice to see her go deeper and darker, and let’s hope it opens up some new opportunities for her.
LOST GIRLS & LOVE HOTELS is available on Digital and On Demand September 18, 2020