Man, Woman, and the Wall
by Jason Coffman
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I am a fan of cinema from all over the world, and especially Japanese and Asian films. Part of this is a fascination with cultures that are totally different from my own in many respects. This clash leads to some films that provide insight into the values and daily lives of people in other cultures, while other films gleefully shatter taboos Western cinema won’t touch. Somewhere in between these lies Masashi Yamamoto’s Man, Woman, and the Wall. This is a film where the basic setup, in the hands of a Western filmmaker, would likely translate into a suspense thriller, but in Japan, it’s a mostly sedate character study with splashes of romantic comedy and explicit sex.
Yuta (Hiroto Kato), a young reporter for “an old-fashioned magazine,” moves into a new apartment and almost immediately begins spending a lot of time listening to what his neighbor Satsuki (popular Japanese adult film star Sola Aoi) is up to through their shared, paper-thin wall. In fact, it doesn’t take too long before he’s literally structured his day around her schedule and improved his listening equipment to get a better quality spying experience. His seemingly benign stalking escalates to the point where he finds out where she works and engineers excuses for them to hang out. Eventually Yuta learns that Satsuki’s boyfriend Ryo (Keita Ohno) is also stalking her, making obscene phone calls and watching her with a remote video camera, so he decides to take more direct action to help her out.
When I first read the basic plot outline of Man, Woman, and the Wall, I immediately thought of Eric Nicholas’s U.S. horror/thriller Alone with Her. The plots of the two films have a lot in common: a lonely protagonist with nice gadgets uses them to spy on a young woman and starts to insinuate himself into her life. Of course, in Alone with Her, the man is a highly disturbed, potentially dangerous stalker interested in holding the woman completely in his power and all to himself. In Man, Woman, and the Wall, Yuta’s stalking is depicted almost as more of a harmless hobby picked up by a bored, lonely man who is not a bad guy. He just, you know, enjoys the company of a nice girl and likes to masturbate while listening to her have rough sex with her boyfriend.
It’s this complete cultural disconnect that makes it difficult to engage with a film like Man, Woman, and the Wall. The way the characters act and react to the situations in which they are placed are completely foreign to the way one would likely expect. It’s somewhat difficult to sympathize with Yuta as a protagonist, even when it turns out Ryu is the “villain.” There is not much that actually happens in the film: aside from a few surprisingly graphic sex scenes and some other nudity involving the leading lady, there’s not much in the way of traditional “action.” In other words, no heart-pounding chase scenes, no building of tension, and only one somewhat clumsy fight near the end of the film. It’s likely to leave audiences unfamiliar with Japanese culture and/or filmmaking scratching their heads.
Still, Man, Woman, and the Wall is an interesting experience. Discussing specifics would spoil the film’s surprises, but the obvious Annie Hall reference in the midst of Yuta’s wooing is one of the film’s high points. The film looks as though it was shot on DV, which helps insinuate the audience in Yuta’s voyeurism but makes a few scenes too dark to make out. Whether writer/director Masashi Yamamoto meant for Man, Woman, and the Wall to comment on aspects of modern Japanese culture (urban alienation, the tendency of people to relate to each other through technology rather than directly, etc.) or just wanted to make a quirky romantic comedy with some gratuitous nudity and sex is anybody’s guess, but the fact remains that the film is an intriguing experience that should please fans of Japanese cinema.
Man, Woman, and the Wall will be released on DVD July 29th by TLA Releasing. Special features include the film’s original trailer and a “making-of” featurette.
Jason Coffman is a writer and film critic living in Chicago.
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