Monday, January 31, 2011

Goth: Love of Death

Two high school students come together to investigate a string of murders---not because they're teenage sleuths who want to catch the culprit, but because they want to admire and inspect the killer's handiwork. Visually stunning, like an amalgamation of nightmares and dreams, Takahashi Gen's movie adaptation of the Otsuichi light novel, Goth, succeeds in establishing a mood and tone which befits its source material but draws back from delving into the darker elements of the original work in favor of producing a compact storyline that's easier to follow.

This is another one of those movies where you either get it or you don't. I guess it all depends on what you expect coming into it but allow me to tell you up front that this movie is not so much a murder mystery as it is an impressive attempt at capturing the disposition of the characters through the use of sight and sound. I'm sure that those who've read the book and the manga on which this movie is based can vouch that the cinematic feature doesn't even come close to being as dark and twisted as author Otsuichi imagined or intended it to be, but I think that the changes introduced to it were necessary given the style and structure of the story.

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A serial killer is on the loose and he's preying on beautiful young women, leaving them on display as lifeless pieces of art in public places, keeping only the left hand of his victims as a memento of his work...

Will you teach me how to smile like that?
A second victim has just been found at the local park and present at the crime scene, cordoned off with the rest of the onlookers who came to witness the grotesque exhibit, high school students Morino Yoru (Takanishi Rin)  and Kamiyama Itsuki (Hongo Kanata) individually take in the scene, silently acclimating themselves to the ghastly atmosphere, unable to tear themselves away by reason of morbid curiosity.

Instinctively picking each other out, the two lock eyes, quick to identity how the other must have a similar reason for staying behind and looking more engrossed than the average member of the crowd.

The following day in school, the they measure each other up, eager to see whether they shared the same abnormal fascination with death, decay and human cruelty.

Compelled by a common desire to seek the killer out, misanthropic Morino and the outwardly genial Kamiyama decide to conduct an investigation of their own, hoping to be the first to uncover and witness the killer's next gruesome art form. They start off by meeting after classes, exchanging notes and doing research, gaining any and all information available on the killer and his three victims. They then proceed to visit the places where the bodies were found, going as far as reconstructing the crime scene, with Morino assuming the victim's position as described in newspaper clippings. The two approach the case as they would pursue an after school activity; discussing every detail of the murders as if it were a  normal conversation topic. This so-called hobby of theirs, posed no real threat or danger, that is, until one of them stumbles upon a diary that contains a detailed account of the murders, including directions to the location of the fourth victim which the authorities have yet to discover. Suddenly, they find themselves closer to the killer than ever, and as they continue to track him down, it becomes apparent to both of them that they have different motivations for seeking him out.

Slow, surreal, cool and baffling---Goth is basically an experiment in storytelling, one which partly succeeds in creating a pseudo-mystery and character study, made possible only through the use of striking images and well-placed musical cues. Writer-director Takahashi Gen brazenly condenses Otsuichi's light novel by stripping whole sections and events narrated in the book from the film version, deliberately retaining only parts of the story to make up a significant whole. His vision of Goth essentially takes on the form of a psychological thriller, one that prefers not to explain as much as to show how two people who appear to be so similar, can turn out to be different at their very core.

Shot entirely in soft focus, cinematographers Ishikura Ryuji and Kugimiya Shinji imbue the film with an ethereal and fairytale-like atmosphere---giving earth colors a richer tint and texture while allowing primary and secondary colors a more prominent and incandescent presence throughout the film. Watching Goth is like being immersed in a dream that can  potentially turn into a nightmare at any given moment; it cultivates an escalating sense of foreboding which comes in sharp contrast to the utter brightness of certain scenes and the delicate, almost angelic, features of the characters seen onscreen.

From a visual standpoint, Goth is definitely one beautiful and arresting piece. it manages to entrance viewers with its overwhelming use of light and vibrant colors, more so, when the same is used to stage a frightening or creepy spectacle. It has elements in it that would no doubt fit in nicely in a horror movie or a slasher flick but Goth never breaks its cadence or succumbs to clichés in reaching its conclusion. Instead, it proceeds without an obvious hint of urgency, bearing the quiet confidence that those who have been enticed to follow these two characters will see them through the end of their journey.

To accomplish this, Takahashi Gen and his able team of writers, namely, Gram, Takashi Hotta, Michio Kashiwada and Midori Saito made crucial changes to the original material in order for the audience to see only Yoru and Itsuki. They smartly dispensed with the use of the voice-over device that could have given away the story and likewise scrapped the endless parade of serial killers that could have graced and cluttered the screen. And while the movie may have lost out on the initial shock and clarity that comes with having easy access to a  psychologically disturbed individual's head as demonstrated by Otsuichi's narrative, what it gained as a result was this dark and quiet intensity---one that's borne out of the inability to predict how the two characters in it would behave or feel.

The movie takes its sweet time to explore and compare the frame of mind of its two characters through subtle references, tell-tale signs, without so much as making a direct reference thereto in the spoken dialogue. As a result, viewers are inevitably forced to draw their own conclusions, and therefore every little thing becomes a matter of interpretation. How much thought and attention one puts into it will alter one's emotional attachment to these two deceptively kindred souls; the appreciation of the whole movie, becomes a matter of thought and introspection.

There are those who kill and those who are killed.
Takahashi Gen makes good use of his source material despite taking creative liberties in  pruning and merging plot points to make the whole thing cohesive. He even manages to build up suspense during the movie's final stretch without having to resort to graphic displays of blood and gore whilst maintaining  the film's moody atmosphere. Some set pieces may appear severe and overbearing by way of style and function but overall, the design concepts for Goth (from Yoru's gothic lair and the sterile muteness of Itsuki's bedroom to the dingy cafe where they often meet to discuss the killer's next move) provide insight into the personalities of its two characters. The movie also greatly benefits from the inspired musical composition of Murakami Jun that evokes tension and wonder through a single, base melody that combines the light percussive rhythm of a xylophone with the funereal sound of a choral interjection. Simple and repetitive, it captures the image of wheels in motion, the essence of the human mind at work, albeit with a few surprises in store.

Actress Takanishi Rin as the solitary and gloomy heroine of Otsuichi's story looks and moves like the live-action incarnate of Enma Ai. She plays Morino Yoru with a quiet countenance, delivering lines with marked nonchalance, and yet there's something about the expression on her face that would make one to believe that there's more to her than meets the eye. She appears detached and guarded but she also comes across as innately weak and fragile. In stark contrast to Takanishi Rin's guilelessness is Kanata Hongo's chilling portrayal of a young man who has a genuine appreciation for the most gruesome things. He's dispassionate and duplicitous, he has this impenetrable wall that shields away his thoughts, making him an ambiguous element, an apathetic creature. Having played a number of surly characters in the past, Kanata Hongo embodies the incalculable nature of Kamiyama Itsuki---with his lean frame, effeminate posture and priggish delivery---he captures the bearing of someone who holds the world in contempt. Together, they make one curious pair and one heck of a character study. They're soulmates and polar opposites; outsiders in search of a place to belong, both pretending to be someone they're not. Serial killers aside, Goth really is about the relationship between Yoru and Itsuki. These two teenagers make up the heart of the story. They're in fact the mystery to be solved and by the end of the movie,  it's up to you, the viewer, to put in the last puzzle piece.

For a more detailed discussion of the book on which this movie is based on, you can check out Thea's fantastic review over at The Book Smugglers---Manga Appreciation Week: Book Review- Goth by Otsuichi 


  1. Love the review, zooey, it's so beautifully written^^ And the screencaps are awesome as well, you have a knack of always creating exactly the right mood for your posts with them :)

    Goth definitely sounds like my type of movie and after reading your glowing points, I am sure to check this one out asap! Loved everything you said in the fifth last paragraph about the lighting, the colours and just the general way the film was shot- I love it when such attention is given to a movie piece.

    Not all too familiar with the leads, Takanishi Rin I think I caught a glimpse of in Rookies, while Kanata Hongo, well, to me he always looked like he was around 16yrs or something so I stayed clear lol But it's good to hear young talent performing commendably on the big screen.

    Without having read the novel and/or the manga, I hope to still be able to enjoy it as much as you did :)

  2. Thanks, jicks! That's mighty nice of you to say so. Been struggling with this particular piece, can't tell you how glad I am to hear that it turned out okay.

    About Goth, well, I sure found it pretty. There were some scenes that looked downright surreal and creepy but overall, the color palette was just amazing. What I enjoyed about it though is that it really gave a different spin to the manga, the original work was quite disturbing, but it pretty much surprised me with how I ended up caring about these two gloomy creatures.

    I've only seen Takanishi Rin in Rookies as well but I've seen Kanata Hongo in quite a few dramas including the second Nana movie. He still looks like a kid, alright. Weird thing though is that he's now typecasted as the cool kid which is why I think he creeps me out now when he smiles. He's always had this expression that can only be described as smug confidence and/or mild constipation and a smirk that looks as if he's taken a whiff of bad air. I sound like I'm bashing the kid but I can't really imagine anyone else playing his role in this movie. Just saw him in GANTZ and he has those crazy eyes that make you go "eek!" but once the camera pulls out, it's hard to find him intimidating because he's stick thin.

    Will definitely keep fingers crossed that you enjoy Goth as much as I did. It's a bit slow but there were a lot of things about it that kept me interested in it. Loved the music. :)