Genre: Almost Interesting Youth Angst Documentary
review in one breath
As the one year anniversary of the World Trade Center collapse approaches, a socially skeptical young man begins a web project entitled "Peep TV" which streams voyeuristic video, all in the name of showing "Reality". As the 9/11 anniversary draws closer, his projects turn darker and more serious, catching the eye of Moe, a Gothic Lolita who sees in his work an authentic expression of her own contemplations of isolation and identity.
This is a independent film by director Tsuchiya Yutaka whose prior work has been generally limited to documentaries. Peep "TV" Show was first shown in Japan at the 2003 Yamagata International Documentary Film Festival and then to international audiences via the 2004 Rotterdam Film Festival at which it was nominated for awards. It seems to still be outside the mainstream Japanese purview and currently is not listed in JMDb.
This film presents its narrative in a strangely abstracted documentary style. Vast portions of the film are comprised of an anonymous, silent cameraman to whom various individuals make remarkably frank statements regarding their innermost turmoils. The remaining segments are clearly dramatized and together make up the whole of the storyline. These two varieties of approach are then blended within the same scenes so that after spilling their inner selves onto the camera, characters can then turn and continue in a dramatized segment. Thus stylistically this may in fact be deemed quite unique and creative. From what I've read (and experienced), however, everyone seeing this wishes more effort and insight had gone into a polished editing of the final product.
This is a hard one to pin down. On some levels the project is quite noble and gritty, particularly with its focus upon fringe youth culture contemplating the seeming trajectory of the world toward global war. From the ultra-hip poseur Hasegawa to the personable yet distant Goth Lolita Moe, the characters chosen here are indeed interesting if not simply due to their appearance and lifestyle. (And there is not a great deal of sustained dialogue herein.) Similarly, their quest for a more true-to-life portrayal of Reality, in all its bleakness and despair, comes across as wholly authentic and intuitive. And the use of the internet and easily produced digital video indeed seems the most reasonable and potentially successful venue for their project.
There are many cameos of disenfranchised or troubled individuals from several walks of life from which confessions of anger, disillusionment or loss of direction are made face-to-face with the camera, and which surprisingly come across as unnervingly authentic. Their attraction toward (or unwitting appearance on) Hasegawa's voyeuristic website actually creates quite a compelling atmosphere for the viewer, reminiscent of the isolated souls depicted in Kairo, peering into their computer screens in search of human interaction. But here, of course, audiences are skillfully led to believe (all the while realizing we are being led to believe) that the individuals here are real given the documentary style of their portrayal.
Thus there indeed seem to be several aspects in which this film's merits come across quite clearly. Unfortunately in the totality of things, I can't help but suggest it's shortcomings outweigh its strengths. But more on that in a bit.
Though by day Hasegawa works in a meager computer-related job, in after hours he spends his time secretly filming the public and posting the digital videos to his personal website which he entitled "PEEP TV SHOW". The web site serves in some regards as a diary and in others as a vehicle for social commentary. The narrative of this film commences on August 15, 2002 on which date Hasegawa begins posting the entries from the WTC terrorist pilots' diaries. One entry a day, as a form of dark countdown to the one year anniversary of the collapse of the World Trade Centers. Along with the diary entries, Hasegawa streams video he captured of unwitting individuals whether on the street or through surveillance cameras he has strategically placed looking in through apartment windows.
His behavior and project soon catches the attention of Moe, a similarly disenfranchised youth who has immersed herself in the Goth Lolita culture wherein young adult females dress like gothic dolls. After regularly visiting Hasegawa's site, Moe eventually asks to join in the capture and creation of his broadcasts. Together they count down the remaining days to the 9/11 anniversary.
Well, I would suggest that the following contains spoilers, but actually there is no real plot twist here to be spoiled. The outcome is precisely as described above, a web site countdown to the 9/11 anniversary using homespun streaming video. Thus this will simply be a rather frank discussion of my overall impression of this film.
Although I've noted above several recognizably meritorious aspects of this film, there are a few real weaknesses here which need to be mentioned.
First, there are some serious editing problems which nearly every review I have read of this film readily admits. The film runs at just under 100 minutes and I'd guess at about the 30 or 40 minute mark you'll be looking at your watch wondering what the hell you got yourself into. That unpleasant limbo of sheer boredom lasts for about 20 minutes until the pace of the narrative picks up again. There is a review of this film on IMDb by someone who attended the Rotterdam Festival remarking the large numbers of people walking out of the theater during this film's showing. (I myself started to walk out and then realized I was in my own living room.)
Thus there is a very real obstacle to this film becoming popularly successful among most mainstream audiences. That said, I am personally glad I (grabbed another beverage and) waited this one out, since it did indeed pick up its pace after a while.
A second critical weakness I see is this film's highly dated focus upon the WTC attacks of September 11, 2001. Yes, I am American. Yes, I watched the planes hit the towers on live TV. Yes, I experienced the shock, bewilderment and existential rage as did everyone here in this country (and perhaps abroad). But even we in the USA do not view (or reflect upon) the 9/11 event in such a near-apocalyptic manner as does this film. For example, according to this narrative, Hasegawa views the 9/11 terrorism acts (to which he masturbates) as a watershed in the evolution of civilization, heralding it as "the day the world changed".
Although perhaps such imaginations seemed justified weeks or perhaps months following the attack, at least by 2003, the year of this film's release and most certainly by 2006, the year in which this film is released in the USA, I would assume we all know that no such apocalyptic event occurred in the USA, nor Japan (!!!). This film, however, uses 9/11 as the sole pedestal upon which to place its fringe social statement. Thus watching these characters talk about these events with their degree of naivete itself feels quite dated. Perhaps that may be an intended aspect of Tsuchiya's documentary format, but it seems clear that in accomplishing this in this manner, the poignancy of his "contemporary" message goes out the window.
So in essence, this documentary presents highly posturing disenfranchised youth reacting to the events following the WTC terrorist event by promoting an anti-establishment message. Their lifestyles seem realistic (though I have some real doubts about the plausibility of the Hasegawa character), the youth subculture they represent is realistic, and their angst and isolation are also realistic. But as to whether or not they have anything to say truly worth listening to is a CORE issue for this film.
I guess that the best I can say is that the speakers here and the way in which they propagate their message is interesting. But unfortunately what they have to say is not.
And finally, I need to mention my lingering feeling that this film suffers from a form a schizophrenia in which multiple personalities all blend into one, only to individually appear and disappear over the course of the narrative. In other words, this film tries to be too many things simultaneously. It wants to be a documentary on the flamboyantly disillusioned youth subculture of Shibuya/Harajuku, spending much camera time on various cute Goth Lolitas. It wants to be a statement about contemporary urban "Reality" juxtaposed the mass media's force-fed views of the world, suggesting that voyeuristic observation of non-eventful episodes in the lives of real people somehow sticks it to the man and solves troubled souls' search for meaning. It wants to be current social commentary depicting a rather nihilistic anti-war sentiment through replaying ad naseum the video footage of the planes crashing into the Towers. It wants to be a demonstration of the power of the internet through which isolated souls find catharsis in bearing their darkest fears and secrets to an anonymous, ever-watching audience.
It probably wants to be another thing or two which utterly evaded me.
Put all together, this film presents the viewer with a nearly difficult task of enduring poor editing and rather childish social sermons while keeping track of all the themes and sub-themes to and from which the narrative jumps. On the bright side, there are CUTE GOTH LOLITAS !!! (Or, if cute girls in knee stockings just don't do it for you, there's the multiply pierced, fully tattooed brood-fest Hasegawa!)
Version reviewed: Region 1 Subtitled DVD (available at all mainstream venues?)
|Despite great effort, the most you'll learn from this is the cost of a gothic lolita doll costume.||Stand back or the kitty gets it!!||Nada, although you'll get to hear the highly memorable line: "They're humping like monkeys!"||Alas! Not quite green-skull-worthy.|