I admit I have been worried about watching this DVD. I first saw Kotoko at the Edinburgh Film Festival, and I found it emotionally devastating and a very moving cinematic experience. I’m not certain whether I’ve held off reviewing the DVD because I was worried it wouldn’t affect me so much the second time, or if I was worried that it would.
I’m glad I had the courage to go back to it.
The film is the story of one woman, Kotoko (Cocco), and her battle with mental illness (it seems to be paranoid schizophrenia). She has trouble telling fantasy from reality, and does her best to hide from the world. One of her coping mechanisms is self-harm, specifically cutting her forearms, and the other is singing. She is also a single mother.
It isn’t long before Kotoko simply cannot cope, and her baby is taken to live with her sister. It is then that she meets Tanaka (Tsukamoto) an award-winning author who falls for her singing voice and sets out on the arduous task of winning her over.
The film deals with Kotoko’s mental illness in a very life-like, very real way – particularly considering the mixing of fantasy and reality. Her gradual loss of self is balanced, and very difficult to watch. Nothing is glamorised, nor is it made into ‘gritty realism’, but is presented as a way of life, which allows the character and anyone going through something similar an amount of respect that is often lacking.
Cocco’s performance is astounding. Moving from intense joy to despair and a myriad of other emotions, often in quick succession in a take. Of course she is a singer, so these scenes are powerful too.
The film is also very strong visually, with some wonderful use of colour and texture to reflect Kotoko’s state of mind, and to build towards some very clever use of surroundings later in the film.
The story is simple, at its core, but actually covers a great deal of topics and subjects. There are twists, largely based around her faltering grip on reality, which will punish your emotions.
Kotoko is one of my favourite films of the year. Beautiful, devastating, and incredibly brave.