Well, you can’t say I didn’t try. After seeing director Masato Tsujioka’s first feature Lost By Dead and writing it off as a dog’s breakfast, I found he had made another movie, Divide. From the trailer, it looked like it had a better budget and more competence behind the camera. Oh, why not, I thought; it would be nice to see a director maturing and growing in front of my eyes. And so into my queue it went.
Yes, Divide is better than Lost By Dead. Very, very slightly better, as it sports incrementally improved production values and a more compact running time (it clocks in at exactly one hour). But that’s like saying a head cold is a step up from a case of smallpox. What few good ideas there are swimming around in this porridge of a movie are so incoherent and underdeveloped I almost wish they hadn’t bothered. In some ways, it’s easier to deal with a movie that makes no pretense of making sense than one which tries and bellyflops into the shallow end of the pool.
The plot, what I can make out of it, goes like so. Two sisters have gone their separate ways after the death of their mother. The “bad” girl’s become the ringleader of a gang of girl prostitutes; the “good” one’s stayed in school and diligently pursued her studies, but feels increasingly despondent and hollow. She begins corresponding with an editor on the staff of a magazine about teen girls’ issues; he offers her what comfort he can, but it isn’t much. When she turns to one of her professors as a possible substitute father figure, she’s disillusioned when he turns out to be a closet pervert, and drifts downward into a life of drugs and working as a hostess-club girl.
Her sister’s got problems of her own, mostly from her own boss — a borderline psycho obsessed with destroying the Youth of Today with drugs, violence and twisted sexuality. This guy’s an attention-getter, all right, with his fluorescent contact lenses and punk outfits — all designed to distract you from noticing the same actor is playing two roles in the film. This leads to one of the least compelling surprise reveals of any movie I’ve seen, followed by an “emotional” coda that’s about as limp. All this is served up in a sauce of flashy editing and tinnily-recorded dialogue that made me grateful I could rely on the subtitles to understand what in god’s name was going on.
I know how tough it is to make a movie. Any movie at all. It’s doubly tough in a country like Japan, where the indie movie scene is a fraction of what it might be in the U.S., and getting a film released is in itself a triumph. Well, sure. But let’s not kid ourselves: once the movie’s out there, it’s fair game, and it has to stand or fall on its own feet. Tsujioka has some other movies to his credit, but they’re not out here, and after going zero for two with him I think I’ll look somewhere else for now.