|2/dyuo 1997 Japan 2/Duo|
Kei (Nishijima) is a struggling actor, freeloading off Yu (Eri Yu) which makes him impulsive and insecure resulting in unpredictable behavior, fits of anger, and a proposal of marriage. Yu works in a boutique as a shop assistant and seems to be playing the archetype of the abused and unappreciated Japanese woman who tackles her fate with a Zen determinism. Her habit of laughing during the most tense and awkward moments makes her appear a little unstable but also very real, almost surreal.
Even without a handful of scenes where the characters (the actors?) are interviewed about their feelings by an off-screen voice, the film has a fly-on-the-wall documentary feel. 2 Duo is a quietly disturbing character study and the blurring of fiction with documentary might serve to enhance the impact but I'm not interested in critiquing the film from that angle. This is a film which lets us observe the surface interactions of a couple characters that clearly have immense depth. With its crisp vision, assured direction, and most of all its fine acting we really don't need any meta-narrative in order to be fully engaged. I'll leave it to film school students to comment on the ramifications of the documentary style interviews if such a critical look is needed.
This is a small, quiet film with characters that seem overflowing with histories right when we meet them. It's a little sad and painful but it's executed so well there's an uplifting quality to it. This is mostly due to the performance of Eri Yu, who went on to make a few more films but then seems to have disappeared from the industry. Nishijima's performance isn't quite the caliber of Yu's, or perhaps his character isn't as interesting. Being a jerk isn't as complex as being someone who bees with that jerk with their head held high, slightly wobbling.
Summary: A really wonderful and visceral pseudo-documentary with a distinctly Japanese twist. The film follows a boyfriend/girlfriend duo through a tumultuous period in their lives: the boy is an underachieving actor who wants to sleep all day, the girl is a depressed shop assistant. The film does a wonderful job of painting deep and complex characters without making anything too overstated. The characters barely talk to each other about their deteriorating mental states, instead talking to an unseen narrator about what they hint at with their actions. The whole fly-on-the-wall approach gives the movie an underlying tone of profound alienation and shows rather than tells the audience the negative consequences of the emotionally repression that's unfortunately so common in Japan. Viewers without firsthand experience of Japan might find something lacking, but everyone I know who's lived in Japan has thought the characterizations were eerily accurate.