Tuesday, 28 November 2017

Out of Sync: Takuya Fukushima's MODERN LOVE

Azusa Inamura in Modern Love

A mysterious new planet called Emanon, three overlapping parallel universes, a secret country, and a grotesquely realistic brain replica are only the more surreal components of Takuya Fukushima's spellbinding new feature film Modern Love. The multi-talented Japanese writer and director first grabbed my attention years ago with his 2009 film Our Brief Eternity, which similarly blends science fiction elements (in that film's case, an amnesia-inducing global epidemic) into a nuanced story about love and generational malaise within a circle of disillusioned thirtysomethings in contemporary Tokyo. True to both its title and Fukushima's proven aptitude for rendering the complex emotional states that pervade and are further complicated by the world in which we live, Modern Love smoothly continues his unique sensibilities into the present-day landscape of dating apps, one-night stands, texts, and the omnipresent influence of screens and phones, only to highlight the timeless longevity of true love. 

"Timeless," however, might not be the term Fukushima's heroine Mika (Azusa Inamura), who is working on her Master's degree in theoretical physics, would use to describe the predicament she finds herself in when she begins to experience unexpected jumps into parallel worlds that closely resemble her own, taking her back into skipping sequences of previously-lived events that hit her like unexplained waves of déjà vu. Time, for her, thus becomes multiplied, confounded, and bunched up over itself, forcing her to experience three different time tracks of her life and even interact with three different versions of herself. These physics-defying occurrences may be due to the increasing influence the new planet Emanon (also the name of the cryptic memory disease in Our Brief Eternity) is exerting upon the Earth as it rapidly expands, or they may have something to do with the bizarre brain figure a client gives to Mika at the travel agency where she works after she tries to help him book a trip to someplace called Agartha. Either way, as Mika gets pulled further into the temporal distortions rippling through her life, she becomes transfixed by the reappearance of her lover Teru (Takuro Takahashi) in one of the three time tracks, whereas in the other two (including the plane she knows as her own version of reality), he killed himself, yet lives on within her in the form of a disembodied voice that pipes up at unexpected moments. 

Just as the Emanon virus in Our Brief Eternity gave that film's characters the chance to re-live their romantic relationships with one another, the time travel phenomenon that seizes Mika in Modern Love allows her the opportunity to fall in love with Teru all over again – while, more agonizingly, the other two Mikas can only watch and long for the man they loved and lost in their own worlds. But rather than giving in to grief, jealousy, or confusion as time continues to loop and repeat around her/them, all three Mikas vow to work together to make sense of the strange events occurring around them and do their best to save Teru from whatever fate lies in store for him. 

Azusa Inamura in Modern Love

Fukushima keeps his mind-bending odyssey firmly grounded by sticking close to lead actors Inamura and Takahashi, whose chemistry with one another and respective acting talents lend Mika and Teru refreshing measures of depth, charm, and personality. Modern Love is carried along by the reverberating soundwaves of a lively score from the band Toruko-Ishi and Hiroyuki Kawahara of floating mosque that subtly elevates the film's creeping paranoia and cosmic intrigue while Mika and her friends' frequent visits to Roppongi's VARIT. music venue allow Fukushima to feature such bands as Dead Lennons, Glow and the forest, and DieByForty (by way of 350showcase, an ongoing concert series highlighting Tokyo's thriving underground music scene) both onscreen and on the soundtrack, keeping the proceedings charged with robust blasts of raw punk-rock energy. The film's final act sends Mika to the shores and hills of Agartha itself – in reality the port town of Cadaqués, Spain – where she finds a welcoming, communal gathering of fellow far-flung souls and, finally, an unexpected solution to her long, strange search to save the man she loves more than anything else in her life. 

As seen in Our Brief Eternity, Modern Love, and his 2016 short Legacy Time, Fukushima is accustomed to strategically introducing large-scale calamitous events into the "normal," mundane flow of everyday life in his films to get his characters to stop, take a close look at themselves, and consider deep, serious questions about what they are living and working for and who they truly love – if anyone at all. But though he enjoys playing with apocalyptic scenarios, Fukushima is ultimately no doomsday cynic, and time and time again (no pun intended), he presents love as a true and real force to take strength and solace from – even in the face of memory-altering diseases, inexplicable disappearances, anomalies that stretch the boundaries of space and time, or, simply, the stifling melancholia of contemporary life. In his newest adventure, he reaffirms his faith in the future despite the shortcomings of the present, putting forth love as that crucial element that can break through the mundane surfaces and mystifying currents of our modern age and restore some measure of hope and meaning.

Modern Love was produced by Takuya Fukushima's production company P-kraft. 

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