A Beast In Love (2020) review [JFFH 2021]

Introduction

Koji Shiraishi is most well-known for his horror narratives like Noroi: The Curse (2005), Cult (2013), and Sadako vs Kayako (2016). While he is a horror director by heart, Shiraishi’s A Beast In Love is different, offering a unique narrative blend between his horror-roots and other genre influences.

Review

On day, at an abandoned site, Futa (Yoshitaka Hosokawa) asks his boss (Tomoki Kimura) if he heard about the crossdressing man (Shôhei Uno) who picks up guys in quiet streets. The boss, excited by hearing this rumour, states that he would gladly give it to him instead of his wife. Shiori (Shiori Ueno) also wants to meet him, but Chuya (Shunsuke Tanaka), who has a more nervous constitution, would rather not encounter him.

Not that much later, the rumoured crossdressing man stops a man called Mayasuki (Suzuyuki Kaneko) and manipulates his feeling so that he would lend him his phone. Granted this ‘kindness’, he suddenly professes his love for this cute boy and ask him to be his. The boy refuses and gets strangled. The crossdressing man then meets Jiro (-), who is taking a leak in front of Bar Kubochika, the bar owned by his lover Chika (Chika Kuboyama). And then Chuya shows up.

A Beast in Love (2020) by Koji Shiraishi.

Koji Shiraishi’s A Beast in Love is a rather strange narrative that explores, in a rather exaggerated way, the impact of traumatic events on a subject – the birth of rage – as well as various interpersonal ‘sexual’ dynamics, like subjective deception and emotional chantage.

The first theme is powerfully explored via the character of Chuya, the new part-timer, and the ‘bullying’ he is subjected to. While it might seem, at first, that Chuya is merely going through the process of being accepted by his colleagues and his boss, this rite of acceptance is but a mere cover to bully and exploit him. Not only do they richly hit and kick them, but the boss, with an ironic touch of friendliness, orders Futa to let Chuya drink his strong piss.

A Beast in Love (2020) by Koji Shiraishi.

Shiraishi also reveals another side of bullying via Shiori’s rather surprising act. When she proposes to Chuya to run away and escape the company together, she does not only confess that her violent behaviour was merely an act, but that her participation in the act of bullying was only to avoid being exploited herself. Yet, while Shiori’s act shows that the fear of being bullied often causes a subject to become an accomplice to the act of bullying himself, one is quickly led to question whether Shiori’s proposal is truthful or if it is merely another act of vile deception.      

The ‘beast’ – and this quickly revealed – is no one other than Chuya. His anxious and submissive nature, due to which he accepts without any complaints the kicks, the punches, and the piss, hides the violent beast that sleeps within him. But what causes the beast to awaken (Sound-note 1)? In short – and without spoiling too much – what bursts his anxious shell and calls the beast forth is either a traumatic event or a situation signaling his impending death.

A Beast in Love (2020) by Koji Shiraishi.

The second theme is most clearly evoked by the crossdresser’s interactions. When he meets a man, he starts talking to this male other in such a way that he elicits acts and words from this other that he can interpret as signs of his romantic interest towards him. He has a thirst for these signs of love of the male other and his own ‘potent love’ can only be elicited as a response to these acts of ‘kindness’. His subjective dynamic is thus driven of a powerful hysterical desire to be loved and to possess this “loving” other, sexually as well as romantically. Yet, any kind of romantic rejection, any kind of “deception” on the part of the other, turns this crossdresser violent – love or death (Narra-note 1 (spoiler)).

The manipulative dimension of love is also touched upon in the relationship between barman Jiro and his lover, bar-owner Chika. For Chika, the possibility that her lover steals some small money from the register puts the honest nature of his love into question. Yet, the female questioning of his love does not lead to any confession or any attempt to make things right but leads to a burst of violence. Chika is, in fact, imprisoned by Jiro’s phallic savagery. Any kind of rebellion against his maleness causes an explosion of physical and verbal cruelty to put her in the position she “belongs”: an objectal support of his phallic fantasy. But Shiraishi also reveals via Chika’s violent response – and this is important, how fragile this phallic fantasy is and how fundamental the role of the female subject within the male obsession with the fantasy of possessing the symbolic phallus.    

A Beast in Love (2020) by Koji Shiraishi.

 

The composition of A Beast In Love is in full support of the violent action or the disturbing nature of some imagery. The bursts of violence are generally framed with fast-paced cinematographical movement or quick cutting to emphasize the impact of the violent acts and the disturbing or disconcerting quality of certain images (e.g. a girl peeing on a dead animal) or sequences is underlined by Shiraishi by utilizing fixed shots. To heighten the tension in certain sequences, Shiraishi smartly makes use of shaky framing (Music-note 1).   

Koji Shiraishi’s A Beast In Love is a rather strange narrative that will divide audiences. Shiraishi’s narrative might lack a bit of cinematographic eccentricity to artfully bring out all of the absurdities, but spectators who give A Beast In Love a chance will not only get an exploration of various sides of the crazy little thing called love but also a demented finale, which is as disturbingly violent as it is shockingly romantic.

[No trailer available]

Notes

Sound-note 1: The growling of a beast and the sound of muscles cracking signals his transformation into the beast. A different sound accompanies the quick moment where he turns ‘human’ again.

Music-note 1: The tension is also emphasized by the subtle musical accompaniment.

Narra-note 1: The first riddle the narrative presents the spectator is why the crossdressing man, after feeling betrayed by Chuya and obsessed with killing him, falls again in love with him. The second time that the crossdressing man’s feelings blossom is not function of any emotional manipulation, but due to the phallic presence of the beast. 

The second riddle concerns the title of the narrative. Who does the beast fall in love with? Who can accept and tame the beast? Let us just say that narrative’s title only gains its full meaning in its final moments.

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