Dir: Yutaka Tsuchiya. Japan 2004. 98mins.
A portrait of alienated cyber-youth, Peep 'TV' Show is so much of the moment - so hyperbolically trendy, even - that it risks becoming dated overnight. But as a fiction with a quasi-documentary flavour, Yukata Tsuchiya's panorama of a voyeuristic technological culture makes for revealing and intermittently urgent viewing. Its essayistic thrust and defiantly lo-fi DV execution will make it extremely tough to distribute, but it should find a niche with festivals - having won the FIPRESCI award at Rotterdam - and at venues specialising in new media and pop-culture experimentation.
The film is built around two characters who appear, judging from the press notes, to be thinly disguised versions of its leads. Hasegawa - a long-haired, facially-pierced young man - spends his days on the streets of Tokyo's Shibuya district, secretly filming passers-by with his camcorder. He also spies on local inhabitants, posting footage of them on his website, which also serves as a vehicle for his musings on September the 11th. He finds a kindred spirit in Moe (Gezchof), a young woman who dresses in the cult fashion known as Gosloli, or 'Gothic Lolita'; she volunteers to have her everyday existence webcast live on the site. Other characters include a traumatised middle-aged salaryman, Hasegawa's porn-obsessed co-worker, and Moe's friend Nagomi (Akiko Ueda), who posts murderous thoughts on her weblog.
Not so much a narrative film as an imaginative essay on the media-saturated condition of modern Japan, Peep 'TV' Show is distinctive for its use of real people effectively playing themselves, and encouraged to improvise. For example, Mamoru Kouyama, who plays a shy agoraphobic, himself did not leave his room for five years.
Shot on digital video, the film uses the imperfections of the medium to vivid effect, manipulating split-screens, text and website images; shooting in Tokyo's streets and subways imparts a nervous kinetic immediacy. There is much intriguing sociological insight into the 'Gothic Lolita' cult, in which young women dress like frilly Bo Peep dolls, with Moe explaining articulately how the style enables her to find a confident sense of identity.
Despite some frenzied early material cut to ear-splitting noise guitar, much of the mood is introverted, even oppressive. Although the surveillance-style material looks a little over-familiar, individual images startle; in particular, viewers may blanch at a distressingly realistic-looking sequence in which a cat is asphyxiated in a plastic bag, while website users vote on whether or not it should survive.
The film may well be acute in its diagnosis of a 'lost generation' of Japanese youth, and certainly sheds interesting light on the way that Japan views the effects of September 11. But it is hard not to feel that the film's traumatised lead duo have narcissistically appropriated the catastrophe for their own emotional purposes: posing in front of a projection of the collapsing Twin Towers, they muse: 'This is our Ground Zero'. It is hard to sustain sympathy with characters who seem so much like disturbed poseurs, but the sense that they are at least partly real gives this odd, restless document a distinctly abrasive edge.
Production company: W-TV Office
International sales: W-TV Office
Producer: Yutaka Tsuchiya
Screenplay: Yutaka Tsuchiya
Cinematography: Masaki Ninomiya
Production design: Tsuyoshi Eda
Editor: Yutaka Tsuchiya
Main cast: Takyuki Hasegawa, Shiori Gezchof, Akiki Ueda, Risako, Mamoru Kouyama