The Knot (結び目 / Musubime) — movie review — Japan Cuts 2011
Posted on July 16, 2011 by Chris Nelson
I’m just going to say it up front. The Knot (結び目 / Musubime) is the best film I’ve seen from the Japan Cuts festival so far, and also one of the best pictures I’ve seen all year. If you’re going to see one film at the festival, you’d do well to see this one. In fact, The Knot is one film where attempting to summarize it up front might actually lessen the experience. The narrative, concerning a woman’s attempt to escape her shameful past, and the conflicting emotions that arise when that past comes back to haunt her, unfolds like an elegant and nuanced mystery. If you want to experience this film uninfluenced, just head off to the Japan Society’s website now, and purchase your tickets. I won’t blame you for skipping the rest of the review.
For those of you that are still here, I’ll continue onward.
If you’ve read the Japan Society synopsis of The Knot, you might be expecting a tale of a couple’s romantic affair, rekindling an old and enviable love after years apart. Far from it. Rather, The Knot is a tale of sexual shame, remorse, and guilty longing. It’s about damaged people trying to come to terms with deep psychological flaws, and their attempts to navigate the future without causing harm to those around them.
The narrative centers about Ayako (Mukku [Muck] Akazawa), an unhappily married woman whose past comes back to haunt her, when a visit to the local dry-cleaners reunites her with the teacher (Junichi Kawamoto) who took advantage of her as a youth. At first she feels rage at the years she lost (15 years later, the townspeople still gossip about her in hushed tones), but stays silent. When the former teacher, now married himself, returns her cleaning with a proposition (a ribbon from a school uniform, nestled inside her newly pristine garment), she throws it back in his face, confronts his wife, and threatens to expose him to the rest of the town. But soon other emotions take hold, including a return of the adolescent lustings she fought so hard to suppress. Was it love she felt back then? Or was she the victim of a crime? As the two come to resurrect their former roles, the repercussions radiate into the families they fought so hard to protect. It’s complex, twisted, and heady stuff. And completely fascinating.
Director Yuichi Onuma (Nude), working from a script by Takehiko Minato, establishes a sense of quiet suffering and restrained tumult throughout the picture. Rather than hand-holding the audience with blatant exposition, Onuma opts for beautifully composed, silent expanses, establishing backstory and audience empathy through his actors’ expertly emotive performances.
And wow, what a great job they do. I’d never heard of Muck Akazawa (Go Find a Psychic!) before this picture, but I’m dying to see her in more pictures. A stage actor and playwright, her turn as Ayako is impressively nuanced. The smouldering hatred directed at co-star Kawamoto is nothing short of authentic, and the erotic tension she brings to their relationship nothing short of emotional truth.
Similarly, Junichi Kawamoto (Isola, Erotic Ghost: Siren) brings just the right mix of tragic Romeo and creepy paedo to his turn as the teacher, Keisuke. With both actors you never stop and think that they are actually acting. Lastly, So Hirosawa also does an impressive job as the teacher’s young wife. Her pain in struggling to make sense of her spouse’s more alarming flaws, all the while trying to be the dutiful wife is heart-wrenching. Brilliant, brilliant stuff.
The Knot is easily one of my favorite films of the year. Stunningly acted, beautifully directed, it’s foreign art-house cinema at its finest. Go see it.
The Knot plays at Japan Society’s Japan Cuts film festival tomorrow, July 17, at 2:00pm EST. To find out more about the film, as well as purchase tickets, check out the festival’s page on the film.