Woman of the Photographs
Feb 7, 2023
Hideki Nagal, Isuki Otaki
Vanity has been a part of human existence for ages. The standards of beauty come and go with the passage of time, but no matter where we are in history, people have sought to look attractive. In Woman of the Photographs, director Takeshi Kushida offers a compelling statement on the broad spectrum of beauty, and how either end of it can be equally damaging.
Kai (Hideki Nagai) is a Japanese photographer who spends most of his days taking standard portraits and then endlessly photoshopping them for his vain clients. Only on the side does Kai get to dabble in a more artistic expression of his photography. While taking photos of insects in the forest, Kai stumbles upon Kyoko (Itsuki Otaki), an Instagram influencer who has just fallen from a tree trying to get the perfect photo. It’s not your standard meet-cute, and Kyoko certainly isn’t your standard model. After inviting herself for a ride home with Kai, Kyoko slowly integrates herself into Kai’s daily life. What starts as a symbiotically awkward relationship slowly morphs into something more sinister as both Kai and Kyoko become obsessed with a more destructive form of beauty.
What makes Woman of the Photographs so interesting is how delicately it dances around being a horror film. The first half of the movie feels more akin to a quirky indie drama than it does something in the genre realm. As Kai and Kyoko’s relationship deepens later in the film, the tendrils of horror finally make their appearance, calling to mind something close to Cronenberg-lite.
The body horror in Woman of the Photographs isn’t as pronounced as that of David Cronenberg. No, Kushida’s desire seems to be to purposefully hold back on the excessive gore and instead force the audience to think about standards of beauty when it comes to surface-level imperfections. The horror emphasis is less on Kyoko’s wound itself and more the obsessiveness with which Kai and Kyoko marvel upon it.
There’s also a fascinating commentary on the state of modern Japan and the isolation many of its citizens feel. While not exactly suffering from hikikomori (the Japanese phenomenon of extreme isolation), Kai’s relationship with other people is often felt only through the viewfinder of a camera. On the opposite end is Kyoko, whose only connection with others – outside of Kai – is through her Instagram page where she obsesses over each and every shot of herself that she posts.
Woman of the Photographs slowly unravels from a quirky first act to a much more sinister final half. For those with the patience, the methodical descent into Japanese body horror will be well worth the investment.