Depending on your mood, Japanese movie Kakera: A Piece of Our Life may strike you as charmingly gentle and perceptive or maddeningly slow and opaque. You may even find yourself flip-flopping between these points of view within the same scene.
A lot will depend on how you respond to the film’s leading characters: the two very different young women whose awkward courtship and love is the heart of the story. Doe-eyed university student Haru (played by former teen pop star Hikari Mitsushima) is shy and insular; the slightly older Riko (Eriko Nakamura) is confident and outgoing.
Haru is bogged down in a joyless relationship with her boorish boyfriend when Riko swoops upon her in a coffee bar and declares her attraction to women in general – and to Haru in particular. “I like the feel of girls because they are soft,” she proclaims.
Riko works as a prosthetist, painstakingly fashioning artificial body parts to replace ones lost through accident or disease. “I want to help people with something missing,” she says, and you can see a similar impulse in her desire to fill the absence she perceives in Haru’s life.
The duo’s friendship develops fitfully, however; so fitfully that you may lose patience with the pair – and the film. Haru comes across as such a passive drip that you wonder why Riko persists with her after the initial coup de foudre. In turn, Riko is sometimes so suffocating, so overly assertive that you’re in danger of losing sympathy with her too.
It’s worth staying with the film, though, if only for the artful way debutant director Momoko Andô, with a keen eye for colour and composition, frames her actors in a series of humdrum Tokyo locations.
Andô, the Slade-trained daughter of esteemed Japanese actor-director Eiji Okuda, also makes adept use of former Smashing Pumpkins guitarist James Iha’s atmospheric score. It comes as a shock, though, when she throws in a brief touch of magic realism and a bottle of pop tossed into the air turns into a two-headed dove.
The bird takes flight, even if heartsick Riko and Haru remain disappointingly earthbound.
On general release from 2nd April.