Director: Ogoata Takaomi
Screenplay: Okata Takaomi
Cinematography: Horinouchi Takashi
Soundscore: Tanaka Makoto
Cast: Ishizaki Chavetaro, Sakuragi Rin
Runtime: 72 min
Film’s official website: http://paranoidkitchen.com/movie/bodytemperature/official/
Special thanks to Raindance, which showed the film at its festival in 2011, for providing me with a screener for Taion. A slightly shorter version of this review was published in GIGAN.
Is there a difference between a human and a sex doll? None, it seems, at least in the eyes of Rintaro, the central character in Taion, Ogata Takaomi’s second feature film.
Rintaro (Ishizaki Chavetaro), a young man perhaps in his early to mid-twenties, is a bit of a sad case. Having fallen into the cracks of society, he is not quite a hikikomori (a social recluse, as they are known in Japan) as he does venture out into the outside world and also holds a job, though to call him otaku (someone obsessed with a particular interest) would not be amiss, for Rintaro’s life revolves exclusively around an uncannily human-like doll by the name of Ibuki (played initially by Sakuragi Rin and replaced in later parts of the film by an actual doll). Every morning he gently awakens and then dresses her. They share breakfast, and later he takes the doll, seated in a wheelchair, for a walk in the sunshine, painting her portrait somewhere in a park, going bowling or making memories in purikura photobooth machines. At night they return and make love, or rather, Rintaro uses Ibuki’s inanimate body to arouse himself and satisfy his carnal desires. It is a tedious every day, which stretches over nearly the first twenty minutes of the film – somewhat trying for the viewer but conveying the reality of Rintaro’s everyday quite well.
The monotonous routine is interrupted unexpectedly one day when Rintaro – shopping for new clothes for Ibuki – comes across a woman in flesh and blood (also played by Sakuragi Rin) that is the spitting image of the doll. Surprised more so than intrigued, Rintaro follows her, eventually leading him to the hostess club where she works. Her job provides the perfect opportunity for Rintaro to become acquainted with the woman, Rinko by name, although he is clearly out of his comfort zone. But acquainted they do become, Rinko slowly taking Ibuki’s place.
The director here narrates with parallel scenes, Rintaro’s interactions with Rinko mirroring everything he previously did with the doll – the bowling, the purikura and, eventually, the sex. While on the surface it seems that Rintaro is being drawn out from his life as a recluse and finally beginning to integrate into normal society, the sex act reveals otherwise: much like with a life-less toy, Rintaro begins to caress Rinko while she is asleep, slowly, tentatively at first, but soon repeating every exact movement from his lovemaking session with Ibuki previously. The touchy-feely exploration of her body is creepy, indeed, disturbing to watch, as it becomes very apparent that Rintaro has no sense of the fact that he is crossing a line: whether is is Rinko, the human, or Ibuki, the doll in her image, it is all the same to him.
As the outsider – the weirdo, the creep – that is ignorant of the social norms and boundaries that govern the real world, Rintaro is an individual that is easy to blame. However, the film insinuates that others are no different, society being just as complicit in the character’s isolation: not a single person even so much acknowledges him (verbally or at least with a curious stare) when he parades around the city with the doll, neither when he feeds her ice-cream in a public space or operates her arm when they go bowling. Real interaction only comes with Rinko (all other conversations, with a host club employee or the sales person at a lingerie store, are inaudible for viewers), who lives in a world that is constructed with just as much fakery and fantasy. Her work in the club is with a false identity, always accompanied by a saccharine smile for customers paying for the make-believe. Although she claims that she has given Rintaro her actual name, it is not certain that this is true. Her interest in him does not seem quite genuine, but inspired by her seeing a timid, socially awkward and easily malleable man – one that will take her back even after she has ignored him for her boyfriend for a while.
Ogata’s film does not dig deep. Its approach is rather slice-of-life as it observes without judging and narrates without much exposition to create conflict. The story that is laid out is bare bones, there are no characters other than Rintaro, Ibuki and Rinko (with one of the trio of course being as if non-existent), there is no background to shed any light on what led Rintaro to withdraw from society, no family members, friends or even work colleagues who might give further insight into the character. Even the one indirect glimpse we get into Rintaro’s job only confirms what we already know: when he meets with Rinko one day, he is dressed, head to toe, in the bland uniform of a factory worker, leaving us to imagine him like a puppet performing the same task mechanically again and again, with zero social interaction and entirely invisible to the indifferent world around him.
Taion also comes with an open ending. When Rintaro finally has sex with the now awakened Rinko, he discovers a difference between humans and dolls, uttering “Your body so hot,” in the midst of lustful intercourse. He realises that the woman’s physical temperature is nothing like that of Ibuki’s, but his sudden insight is as much an epiphany as it is an accusation. Although it could be the beginning of a turning point, we cannot be certain that it eventually is, or whether Rintaro’s life was merely interrupted by meeting Rinko for a short span of time.
Like all of Ogata’s works, Taion deals with individuals at the periphery of society, tackling a subject matter that is both valid and worthwhile. The film, however, is somewhat lacking in its execution as its narrative blandness, which may well be intentional, is a double-edged sword. On the one hand, it reflects the reality that Rintaro lives through every single day, forcing on viewers the character’s chronic disassociation from society. On the other, the absence of proper confrontation of either the external or internal causes behind the isolation, makes it difficult to fully comprehend the character’s situation and empathise with him, despite the fact that we can sense his loneliness quite clearly. Although Taion provides a starting point for a conversation about real issues that affect real people, somewhat unfortunately it does not go far enough to make an impact beyond its screening time – something that the issues in question would certainly deserve.
Taion, like all of Ogata’s films, deals with individuals at the periphery of society, with a subject matter that is both valid and worthwhile. The simplified exploration of Rintaro’s story reflects the character’s everyday reality, yet treads too much on the surface of things to have any longer-lasting impact.