Review for Love and Other Cults
Who’d run a boutique film distributor? It’s a bumpy road strewn with potholes at the best of times, but every so often an unexpected dead end or cul-de-sac hoves into view, an event that I’m sure inspires thoughts of jacking it all in and going to a beach somewhere, watching sunsets, sipping Bacardi instead. This January’s well publicised cul-de-sac for Third Window Films was the sudden closure of their sales agent, Fusion Media. It’s not easy for a small company to get their product onto e-tailer shelves, and the usual approach is to get a third party to do that work. Fusion Media Sales did that job for several distributors like Third Window Films and Terracotta, so their sudden absence left a big hole in the 2018 schedule. Thankfully, both Third Window and Terracotta have now partnered with Arrow Films to distribute their Blu-rays and DVDs, and we customers aren’t going to notice any change to the release schedule. That’s a good thing, as I doubt I could handle a world without Third Window Films, a company that never fails to delight and inspire me with the films that they bring to the UK, films like Love and Other Cults.
For Love and Other Cults, Third Window Films are donning the producer’s cap once more, bankrolling the film and once again working with Eiji Uchida, director of Greatful Dead and the Third Window produced Lowlife Love.
Ai Shima didn’t have the most conventional of childhoods, Raised by a religious maniac mother who was working her way through the world’s theologies, her cries for attention got her bundled away to a religious commune. It was actually the best time of her life; she was cared for, loved, and even worshipped as a special child. Then the police came, shut the commune down and arrested the cult leader. Coming back to the real world isn’t easy. Her mother’s moved onto another religion, and still fails to register her daughter’s existence, while going to school makes her feel just as isolated. It isn’t long before Ai is dropping out and hanging with the wrong crowd. Love and Other Cults follows her life and the lives other teenagers that society has left behind.
Love and Other Cults gets an impeccable 2.35:1 widescreen transfer at 1080p resolution. The image is clear and sharp, while the colours are lush and strong. This is a film that has been colour timed to make its palette stand out, more vibrant and hyperreal, although only one scene (with a heart) has the colour pushed to oversaturation, probably deliberately so. That richness of palette makes the film’s cinematography really stand out, and there are some wonderful locations and settings used to tell what could be a bleak and downbeat story.
The images in this review were kindly supplied by Third Window Films.
You get a DTS-HD MA 5.1 Japanese surround track with optional English subtitles. The surround is effective, the punk opening theme quickly tuning you in to the film’s narrative sensibilities, and the dialogue is clear throughout. The subtitles are free of typos, and are accurately timed, except for one caption at 1:23:35, which precedes its dialogue by some 20 seconds.
When you insert the disc, you get the choice between English and Japanese menus, indicative of a disc that is also distributed in Japan.
From the English animated menu you have the choice of the following extras.
Another Story – Deleted Scenes & Alternate Endings. These last 26:26 and offer some interesting plotlines that didn’t make it to the film, some of which are just too contrived in terms of narrative, but are interesting directions when seen in isolation like this.
Eiji Uchida Talks with Kenta Suga lasts 29:19, as the director interviews the actor that plays the film’s protagonist and narrator, Ryota.
You get the Music Video (3:12), and the Trailer (1:50). All the extras are in some variety of 1080 resolution.
If you boot the disc with the Japanese menu, you’ll find a fifth extra feature, a set of interviews with the film’s cast, which runs to 19:13. Brush up on your Japanese, as there aren’t any subtitles for this one.
The first Eiji Uchida film that Third Window Films released was the darkly satirical Greatful Dead, a genre mish-mash that was unlike anything I had seen before. When Third Window then released Lowlife Love, it was another breath of cinematic fresh air, a biting satire on the Japanese independent film scene. And now they bring us Love and Other Cults, a film about teenage delinquency in Japan. That is such a crowded genre, particularly when it comes to Third Window Films’ own catalogue that you wonder if there is any fresh juice to squeeze out of that particular citrus trope. On top of that, Third Window Films has already released the definitive movie about cults in Love Exposure.
There is a degree of familiarity about the way Love and Other Cults unfolds that I actually found a little wearying and deflating. Once Ai starts school, she briefly connects with the class outsider, a boy named Ryota, before both of them effectively drop out of school. Ryota winds up joining a gang, where he meets strong boss Kenta, and eager, and borderline unhinged sidekick Yuji, while Ai finds herself a delinquent boyfriend from a family of delinquents. And Ryota and Ai’s paths keep on crossing. It’s clear from the beginning that Ai is looking for the love and attention that she never got from her family, looking to recapture the attention she got in that cult, while Ryota’s just looking for a way out. Although given that his gang has as its patron a yakuza named Kida, ways out aren’t that common. The gang gets into varying degrees of trouble, while Ai moves from one lifestyle to another, looking for love. Just when a character finds some degree of hope, life deals a kick to the throat to bring them back down again.
Visually, stylistically Love and Other Cults works well. It tells its story while developing the characters in a way that always holds the attention. It’s just that the subject matter is so well-worn at this point that I just couldn’t find the hook into the film. That’s not until the final scene, which establishes a delicious symmetry with the way Ai’s story begins and ends. It’s a satirical punch that made me re-evaluate the film in its entirety and bring into focus the dark sense of humour at play underneath the narrative. It’s well worth waiting for, and just about does enough to give Love and Other Cults a unique identity.
It may stand to side of its genre, a little askew in the way that it unfolds, but for Love and Other Cults, standing aside isn’t the same as standing above, and that is really what the film needs in the overpopulated teenage delinquent genre. It is worth 90 minutes of your time though, and the quality of this Blu-ray release is up to Third Window Films usual high standards.