Man, Woman, and the Wall
by Jef Burnham
Now available on DVD from TLA Releasing.
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We’ve all been in this situation. We are on the bus, train, or in line at the grocery store and a person in front of us or behind us is talking loudly about their personal business. Or perhaps you pick up your cordless phone and realize it is picking up another cordless phone’s signal. And what do we do? We listen, and maybe we imagine what the personal lives of these people must be like— where they live, what they eat, etc. It’s innocent and inevitable that these things occur. And this is the position Ryo finds himself in in the Japanese film, Man, Woman, and the Wall.
Ryo has moved into a new apartment, which is a step up from his old dwelling since it actually has a bathtub. The first night in residence, he realizes that the wall between his apartment and the adjoining one, inhabited by a twenty-something workaholic named Satsuki, is paper-thin. What begins as innocent and unavoidable eavesdropping quickly finds Ryo buying a microphone and searching the neighborhood for her place of employment.
Typically these stories end in the stalker becoming jealous or destructive, climaxing in an attack upon the unsuspecting target of his/her affections; but that is not the case here. What director Masashi Yamamoto depicts is a story of love— the real love a stalker feels, even if it is only the love of a fantasy character created out of the bits and pieces of information they know about their victim.
Ryo is Yamamoto’s theoretical “nice” eavesdropper or peeping tom. The challenge of portraying him as essentially benign is that it required a deviation on the story of the perpetual stalker that would allay all suspicions from Ryo. Cleverly, Yamamoto introduces a “bad” stalker to the equation. Another eavesdropper has installed a camera and a microphone in Satsuki’s apartment and places obscene phone calls from a car in front of the building to frighten her. At that point, we understand the difference between Ryo’s misguided though romantic intentions and the malicious ones we have come to expect, and we begin to root for a confrontation between Ryo and the mysterious stalker that would leave Ryo in Satsuki’s good graces.
Those more temperamental about sexuality in cinema may want to avoid Man, Woman, and the Wall. The film is steeped in eroticism. However, though there is plenty of nudity and actual sex in the film, sound is the piece’s true erotic core. Every noise emanating from Satsuki’s apartment becomes sensual, from the sound of water splashing off her body in the shower, to the sounds her eating dinner or the simple swish of her laundry landing in the hamper.
Jef Burnham is a writer and film critic in Chicago.
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