Film Review: ‘Videophobia’ Is a Mind-Bending Trip Through a Fractured Psyche
A film which looks at the modern implications of technology, the Internet and video in particular. Videophobia is a techno-thriller about a young Korean-Japanese woman, who becomes haunted by a video.
Director: Daisuke Miyazaki
Cast: Sumire Ashina, Tomona Hirota
Runtime: 88 minutes
Videophobia follows the life of Ai Aoyama (Tomona Hirota), an aspiring actress who works as a mascot to make ends meet. Throughout the film, we watch her go about her day-to-day life and can’t help but feel a sort of disconnect. She seems like a passive passenger in her life, a person who reacts rather than acts. As the story progresses, events occur which result in her being ‘haunted’ by a video.
The film deals with the topic of revenge porn, referring to the digital distribution of nude or sexually explicit photos and/or videos of a person without their consent. As an illicit video of Ai is leaked online, she descends into a spiral of madness, leading her to question reality and her identity.
Unable to take down the video and powerless to stop the mass of duplicates, we see her haunted by it and mentally unravel. While the ‘haunting’ is a strange and unexplainable occurrence, it is never stated to be a supernatural occurrence or a byproduct of her fracturing psyche.
As a response to the rising epidemic of revenge porn and its consequences, Videophobia lets us peer into the perspective of the victim. The premise is something that you wouldn’t be surprised to find on an episode of Black Mirror, sharing the same attitudes to technology.
Similar to the 1997 animated thriller Perfect Blue, the film explores themes of self, identity and reality. While Perfect Blue channels this through the character study of a popstar, Videophobia does this from the perspective of a regular woman, making the fear hit closer to home. The whole experience of the film is confusing and even trippy, as we cannot fully trust the events shown on screen.
As a psychological thriller, the film is filled with confusing twists and turns that will leave you with questions and no answers. Videophobia manages to ground itself in our reality through the authentic feel of Osaka. Showing us glimpses of the city and splicing in stories of the people who live there, the film gives us an insight into Japan and layers the plot with the city’s richness. This further emphasises the themes of dissociation as the normal clashes with the abnormal.
However, it has to be said that Videophobia acts more as social commentary than a feature-length film. While it has the semblance of an overarching plot, events shown do not seem to be relevant to the plot. Instead, we are along for the ride in Ai’s life, going through the banal day-to-day activities. As Ai is the only character of relevance to the plot in the first half of the film, this gives the audience a limited perspective. As the film plays out, this perspective gives us the ability to empathise with Ai and see her subjective version of reality. This gives us an understanding of her life and primes audiences to follow her down the rabbit hole of insanity.
As commentary, it can be said that this haunting is a result of a lack of autonomy and Ai’s inability to reconcile her actions with the persona she puts out. In her everyday life, we can see that she is a shy and meek woman making it difficult to see her as the same woman from the opening scene.
The film further exploits this dissonance as events unfold when we see her struggle with this duality of identity. Unable to reconcile the two sides of herself, she begins to dissociate and soon, even audiences peering in, are unable to even tell what is or is not real. Using shaky cam for the intense scenes, you can’t help but feel pulled into the confusion yourself and lost in the moment.
As a film, Videophobia also explores themes of autonomy. Ai, as previously mentioned, is a passive passenger in her life. She seems to possess little to no character agency and gets strung along for the ride. As a person, she seems to exist rather than live, following and listening to commands rather than lead. Even in her sexual encounter, she shows a silent acquiescence before getting into it.
Stylistically, it is hard to look at the film and distance it from the 1940s -1950s Film Noir. Directly translated from French to mean ‘black film’, this era of film saw black and white stories, sometimes melodramatic and brutal, sometimes dreamlike and surreal. While defining film noir as a genre may be tricky, its most prototypical form (and the form that most people think of) are the tales of hardboiled crime mysteries with sexual undertones.
Videophobia uses this Noir style to create a film that is an exploration of a woman’s sexuality and identity. Rather than focuses on the whodunit of the situation, the film focuses on Ai and the repercussions of having your most intimate moments leaked online. Tomona Hirota also gives us an intense performance with her constant deadpan expression, staring down the lens of the camera and directly at us.
The film Videophobia is truly a ride. With haunting visuals and twisty, convoluted storytelling the film is one that has to be experienced. While not outrightly a horror movie or a satirical social thriller, the film manages to straddle the line between the two genres to create a truly uniquely mind-bending experience.
Catch the trailer for Videophobia here:
Videophobia is an unabashed exploration of the subjectivity of reality and lack of absolutes. It is one of the films included in this year’s lineup of The Perspectives Film Festival 2020 to expand on the theme of “Truth”.
The film will be available for rental streaming throughout the festival period from 23 October to 1 November. For more details on Perspectives Film Festival 2020, visit its website and follow its Facebook page for the latest updates.
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