Woman of the Photographs hasn’t been on my radar for very long, but for the short time I’ve been aware of it, I’ve been dying to see it. The trailer had a dream-like atmosphere that caught my attention right away, so from the moment I saw it, I knew I had to check this film out. I quickly jumped on the chance to review it, and after finally getting the chance to see it, I’m happy to report that Woman of the Photographs does not disappoint.
Woman of the Photographs was written and directed by Takeshi Kushida, and it stars Hideki Nagai, Itsuki Otaki, Toki Koinuma, and Toshiaki Inomata. It follows a professional photographer named Kai who starts a bizarre romance with an Instagram model named Kyoko, and right from the get-go, they’re a match made in heaven (or hell, depending on your point of view). She’s obsessed with looking perfect in her pictures, and he’s more than happy to touch them up for her and remove any imperfections she may have. At first, this arrangement makes Kyko really happy, but her thirst for fame and beauty soon leads her down a really dark path.
Before I say anything else about Woman of the Photographs, I have to warn you, this isn’t a straight up horror movie. While it definitely has some horrific elements, I’d say it’s more horror adjacent than anything else, so if you’re looking for chills and thrills every few minutes, this is not the film for you. But if you’re okay with living on the outskirts of the horror genre for an hour and a half, I think you’re really going to like it.
As you can probably tell from my brief plot synopsis, this movie is essentially a parable about the way many people today use technology (especially pictures) to shrink back from the real world and create false realities for themselves, and in my opinion, it succeeds beautifully. In particular, what’s really great about it is that it doesn’t just depict one version of this problem.
Sure, it focuses primarily on people who are overly body-conscious, like a woman who goes to Kai’s shop multiple times asking him to touch up the same picture for her dating profile, but it’s also very cognizant of other ways people can hide behind technology. Most notably, one of the characters is a lonely divorcé whose daughter died a few decades ago, and at one point in the film, he has Kai age up a picture of his dead daughter so he can numb the pain of her loss.
The things these people say and do are absolutely heartbreaking, but they’re just the tip of the iceberg. The real heart of Woman of the Photographs is Kyoko’s struggle with her body image, and I found her journey absolutely fascinating. At first, her story is pretty standard. As a model, she wants to look her best, so like I said, she has Kai touch up her pictures and remove her imperfections.
However, in the last third of the movie, her attitude evolves. She shakes up her approach to her modeling career, and at first, you think she’s changing for the better. But her old demons never really left her, so soon enough, she starts using her pictures in a different but equally unhealthy way. I don’t want to spoil anything, so I’m not going to reveal exactly what she does. I’ll just say that it shows how complex this issue really is, and it makes for a captivating parable about the ways people often struggle with modern technology.
All that being said, telling a great story is only half the battle. For a movie to truly succeed, the execution has to live up to the premise, and thankfully, Woman of the Photographs knocks it out of the park in this regard as well. For starters, the film has some excellent cinematography, and a number of the shots are so good they’d even make nice pictures to put up on your wall.
On top of that, just like the trailer suggests, this movie also has a dream-like atmosphere that draws you in and makes you feel like you’ve been transported to another world. Part of it is the beautiful cinematography, but part of it is also the main character and the somewhat nonsensical plot (and I mean that in a good way!).
See, for the vast majority of this film’s runtime, Kai doesn’t speak a single line of dialogue, and he doesn’t really make anything happen. Instead, things kind of just fall into place around him as he goes about his business wordlessly, and at first, I took issue with this narrative approach. Real life is never that easy, so I had a hard time buying into this guy and his story.
However, I soon realized that I was missing the point. Woman of the Photographs isn’t supposed to feel realistic. It’s supposed to be a waking nightmare, so it doesn’t follow real-world logic. Instead, it follows a kind of dream logic that can only exist in our imaginations, and that in turn feeds into the dream-like atmosphere that engrosses you and draws you in like few other films can.
So all in all, if you’re on the prowl for something good to watch, I highly recommend Woman of the Photographs. It’s a beautiful and meaningful story told in a stunning way, and I can’t wait to buy this movie on Blu-ray and watch it again and again.
Woman of the Photographs came out in very limited theaters on February 3, and it’ll hit VOD on February 7. It’s also scheduled to be available on Blu-ray on April 11.