Review for Be My Baby
Be My Baby comes to the UK with some serious indie production credentials. This 2013 movie came out of the Cinema Impact actors’ workshop, putting together established directors with first time actors, to make films with budgets of less than $10,000, over the space of 2 weeks. In a workshop more suited to the shorter form, Be My Baby was an unexpected full length feature, and it turned out to be a breakaway hit, both financially and critically, garnering awards, accolades and box office. Third Window Films now brings this feature to the UK on DVD, and I get to take a look.
Nine people get together for a small house party. Five guys, brothers Koji and Naoki, Koji’s friends Yuta and Osamu, and Yuta’s childhood friend Takashi, along with four girls, Koji’s girlfriend Tomoko, her friends Yuko and Kaori, and Naoki’s girlfriend Satomi. Since no one’s met Yuko, Tomoko and Kaori are building her up, and they even chat about setting her up with Osamu. The party doesn’t get off to a good start... And it ends even worse, although we don’t get to see that. We do get to see the aftermath of the party over the next two weeks, the effects that the little get together have on the friends and their relationships.
Be My Baby gets a 1.78:1 anamorphic NTSC transfer on this disc. It’s an interlaced transfer of a basic digital video source. The film is shot wholly in four apartments, indeed just four rooms with really just one camera position in each (not counting close-ups or the opening party), and it’s all under artificial light. Given the budget, you won’t be surprised at the softness of the image, the occasional ghosting, artefacts such as aliasing and shimmer, and a degree of flatness, with the film lacking in contrast. It does tell the story effectively though, and the real genius is in the edit.
You have the basic DD 2.0 Japanese audio, with optional English subtitles. The important thing here is that the dialogue is clear, and given what I assume are four studio sets, lack of clarity is never an issue. However when volumes get high, particularly when characters shout, a degree of distortion becomes apparent. The subtitles are accurately timed, but there is the occasional typo, the odd missing word. There’s also a problem during the party, when multiple conversations may happen simultaneously. There’s only one subtitle caption shown at a time, and there is confusion as to just which conversation may be subtitled at that moment. Fortunately the party doesn’t last long, and the important developments are clear.
The disc presents the film with an animated menu.
You get the trailer for Be My Baby, which lasts 2:19.
Interview With Producer Masashi Kishimoto lasts 11:04 and in it he explains the Cinema Impact Workshop, and recounts the making of the film.
Girl’s Talk offers a slumber party chat about the film featuring actors Chihiro Shibata (Kaori), Naoko Wakai (Tomoko), and Yuumi Goto (Yuko). This lasts 24:20, and is a nice, light bit of fun as the girls talk about the making of the film, how they were cast.
Assholes and Doormats! The males in this movie are assholes, abusive, misogynist, obnoxious, rude, and self-absorbed. The women are doormats, who can only define their own existence in terms of having a boyfriend, so whatever abuse the guys dish out, they meekly take it, as the alternative of not having a boyfriend would be worse. I didn’t like any of the characters in this film, just couldn’t engender the necessary sympathy for them, which meant that I just didn’t enjoy this film. Either there is a significant cultural disconnect going on, or this movie is about the Japanese equivalent of chavs. The only two characters that break the mould are Takashi and Kaori, although they have personality issues that are almost as bad as the others’ if not worse.
The party is the catalyst for the relationship issues that ensue in this film. You get a first hand introduction to the tactlessness and obnoxiousness of most of the male characters straight away, as you see the seeds sown of a party from hell at the start of the night. We then catch up to the characters after the party has ended, and we begin to get some idea of what went wrong. The film is set completely in four apartments, Osamu’s, Koji and Tomoko’s, Naoki and Satomi’s, and Yuta and Takashi’s, and the action moves from one apartment to the next as we see the characters dealing with the fallout of the party over the next two weeks, the relationships that form, fall apart, the lying, cheating, backbiting, gossip, friendships and loves...
It all sounds very soapy and melodramatic, and it is. What makes Be My Baby so appealing to me, on a technical level if nothing else, is how it’s edited together. It’s so smartly done; they manage to find a dramatic pace, the beats of the film, the crescendos and the lulls, that really draw the viewer in. It’s also a remarkably funny film. It will build a scene to a dramatic climax, try and make a point about the characters, what they are going through, who they really are, and then the scene will change to another apartment, and reveal something that will undermine in a hilarious way what you’d just seen. The film’s climax is well worth waiting for in this regard.
If like me, you can’t stand the characters in the film, tend to avoid the soap opera genre which this story embraces, you’ll still find much of value in the actual construction of the film, there’s a lot to learn about the artistry of the filmmaker, the genius of a good editor. Technically Be My Baby is an astounding film. Of course if you like your low rent soap operas, you’ll love this film.