“It’s hard to tell what’s true and what’s not.” according to the hero of Keita Yamashina’s twisty take on meta noir, Body Remember (ボディ・リメンバー). For him, the superficial, literal truth is perhaps less important than that which it conceals, hoping to expose the buried reality hidden between the lines in the novel he is attempting to write inspired by a story narrated by his infinitely unreliable femme fatale cousin Yoko (Yume Tanaka). Shifting between an apparently concrete “reality” that is perhaps exposed as anything but by the final scene, dreams, memories, and the act of creation, Yamashina hints at collective fantasies and the essential truth of sensation as his artist hero attempts to turn an enigma into art.
An unsettling presence, Yoko strides into a cafe dressed in a vibrant red and proceeds to explain to novelist Haruhiko (Takaya Shibata) and his artist girlfriend Ririko (Momoka Ayukawa) that she has long found it difficult to distinguish reality from dream, believing in a sense that the “truth” is irrelevant. Her story seems to be a rather ordinary if tawdry one of finding herself at the centre of a love triangle but also feeling like a third wheel as if she were a puzzle piece hovering over empty spaces unsure where to land while the men are comfortably installed in their rightful places. When lawyer Jiro (Ryuta Furuya) turns up at the bar she has been running with husband Akira (Yohei Okuda) and mournfully explains he suspects his wife is having an affair, the trio reassume an intimacy from their uni days which is later broken by a passionate embrace between Jiro and Yoko accidentally witnessed by the betrayed Akira.
Playing with images of sex and death, Yoko also recounts that seeing Jiro loosen his tie provoked in her a powerful urge to strangle him with it. Yoko apologises for scaring Haruhiko, but on the contrary he seems to find it arousing later openly telling Ririko that he too is captivated by Yoko while she complains that Jiro and Akira, now (or perhaps always) characters in a novel, are underwritten foils who exist only for Yoko. Haruhiko in a sense agrees, but also pulls focus and makes his potential story, in fact the story we have been watching, about the two men, foreseeing a conclusion which is all manliness and honour tinged with a frisson of homoeroticism that joins them both in the inevitable death foreshadowed in the opening scene.
Yet Ririko wants to know the truth of it, investigating the bar where Yoko claimed to work and discovering that no such establishment ever existed though the location was recently used by a shady cult. Perhaps jealous, she dreams of an intimate encounter between the smitten Haruhiko and his “sexy” cousin, yet later reflects on her own tendency to run away from reality in flights of fancy. Her revelations perhaps provoke a deeper intimacy with her conflicted boyfriend who finds himself attempting to construct an “authentic” narrative from unreliable testimony, but then again we can’t be sure everything we see is real as the couple engage in a surreal game of beach volleyball with two men resembling Akira and Jiro whose behaviour is strange and childlike if displaying a similar intimacy to that which they appear to share in Haruhiko’s nascent “novel”.
Challenged by Ririko, Haruhiko merely disappears his heroine, avowing that in the end she was never important in his story about the ambiguous relationship between two men turning her into a mythical femme fatale while Ririko continues to sketch her rival in an attempt to figure her out. Yoko herself tells us that she sees no real distinction between dream and reality that one is no more true or important than the other while insisting that while her mind may forget the facts, the sensation is recorded in her body which will always “remember” if indistinctly.
Using a cast of mostly theatre actors, Yamashina crafts an unsettling atmosphere founded on tactile sensuality that belies the frequent unreliability of verbal communication while the jazz score and shadowy photography contribute to the sense of noirish dread complete with wafting cigarette smoke and a fatalistic, morally ambivalent conclusion. Further disrupting our sense of reality with a final self cameo, Body Remembers nevertheless reminds us that the truth is less important than our perception of it just as it returns us to where we started even less certain than before.
Original trailer (English subtitles)