There’s never been a love story quite like this 47 minute Japanese
drama about insanity and obsessive knot-tying. It was an early effort by
the multi-award winning writer-director Shunji Iwai, and while it
doesn’t approach his later accomplishments, UNDO is visually impressive,
impacting and worth a look.
UNDO, from 1994, was the first real film directed by
Iwai, following several years’ worth of television dramas and music
videos. Iwai would go on to make impressive features like 1996’s
SWALLOWTAIL BUTTERFLY, 2001’s ALL ABOUT LILY CHOU-CHOU and 2011’s
VAMPIRE, none of which are as dark or aberrant as UNDO.
The writer Yukio lives with his wife Moemi in a small
apartment in Tokyo. Moemi wants a dog but their apartment manager has a
strict no-pets policy. Yukio compromises by bringing home some turtles,
to one of which he attaches a chain so it can be walked like a dog.
Moemi is initially repelled by the turtles but gradually comes to enjoy
Yukio and Moemi’s relationship, it seems, has
deteriorated mightily. Moemi wears braces, and is quite excited to get
them removed. This she does, and it revives their love life--for a brief
Moemi grows increasingly obsessed with string, which
she ties around the turtles’ shells, and also books, furniture,
household appliances and her own hands. A psychiatrist diagnoses her
with “Obsessive Knot-Binding Syndrome,” brought about, apparently, by a
conviction that she’s “tied down.” Yukio, however, steadfastly denies
there’s a problem, insisting the shrink is a quack.
This does nothing to halt Moemi’s compulsive
knot-tying, and before long she has much of their apartment covered with
web-like knots of rope. She also makes knot-drawings around a photograph
of her and Yukio, apparently an attempt at “tying up our love,” and
reattaches her braces.
Yukio pays another visit to the hated shrink, who
advises him to tie Moemi up with rope, which will apparently make her
feel “more secure.” This he does, but Moemi demands he wrap her up
tighter. This only aggravates him, to the point that he starts to become
every bit as obsessive as she…
I’m not sure if the psychological affliction that
powers UNDO is based in fact. It is in any event an impressively focused
and unashamedly dark piece of filmmaking, with impeccably composed
visuals and art direction that’s quite evocative, particularly in the
later scenes. Shunji Iwai’s considerable skills as a filmmaker, it must
be said, are fully in evidence in this early work.
Narratively, however, UNDO may actually be a bit too
focused, with protagonists who are never properly introduced or
developed. As Moemi, actress Tomoko Yamaguchi never succeeds in fully
fleshing out her character, and nor do we ever learn much about the
deteriorating relationship that apparently triggers her madness. The
problem may be, simply, that at 47 minutes the film is just too short
for its own good.
Another problem is the inappropriately new agey score
by Remedios, which does nothing to help along a technically impressive
but ultimately unsatisfying piece of work.
Fuji Television Network/Pony Canyon Inc.
Director: Shunji Iwai
Producers: Masahiro Ushikubo, Isao Umakoshi, Mirofumi Ogoshi
Screenplay: Shunji Iwai
Cinematography: Noboru Shinoda
Editing: Toshihiko Kojima
Cast: Etsushi Tokokawa, Tomoko Yamaguchi, Tomorowo Taguchi