Event Report2016.04.23Multi-talented Kaori Momoi Presents Hee

On the heavily attended Saturday of the 8th OIMF the highly anticipated film Hee hit the screens at Cinema Palette in Naha. It captured audiences with its arresting filmmaking and tour-de-force performance by actress Kaori Momoi, who also directed the effort. The pic is masterwork minimalist filmmaking, offering a searing look at the human experience.

The storytelling is accomplished mainly by Momoi’s character Azusa talking directly to the camera about how she ended up as an aging prostitute with a wrecked life. At first the audience just sees Azusa reminiscing directly to the camera about her childhood and early life. Slowly we become aware she is talking to a psychiatrist and revealing her mental state. After a few interludes she is back at the doctor’s office and we understand this second sitting is an evaluation. Laced with jump cuts, passages from Azusa’s life, repeated scenes of trauma for the woman, and quick depictions a few other characters in LA, the film slowly reveals the protagonist as a serial arsonist (hence the title, which means fire in Japanese). With remarkable precision the work shows us a woman who has been brutalized by the world, and hung on the only way she could, by using her body.

We occasionally see the psychiatrist Sanada (Yugo Saso) to whom Azusa speaks outside his office. His everyday life with his professional wife (Ayako Fujitani) and their talented daughter Miku (Melody Thi) is portrayed, but even these scenes seem to underscore how unsatisfactory life can be. The couple’s conversations seem tense and without tenderness, and at times blaring music obscures their commonplace discussions.

The work is an adaptation of a short story by crime novelist Fuminori Nakamura, which Momoi took and reworked. The auteur discussed her performance in the film shot in her own home in LA, explaining that playing the lead “wasn’t that difficult.” “It was like a singer-songwriter work. I was director and actress at the same time so I understand what the actress wants to do. How can I exceed the director's imagination [when I am also the director?]” She noted, “So, I didn’t do any rehearsal and I don’t practice.” She stressed, “I don’t do retakes, so it was like documentary filmmaking,” giving insight in to her working style. “When the script came to my hands I didn’t use it at all, I rewrote it a lot and on the set, every day after the shooting I restart re-writing the script.”

Hee met with critical acclaim at its world premiere in the Berlin Film Festival and Momoi has shown once again why she’s a leading light of contemporary Japanese cinema.