Fantasia Festival Review: WOMAN OF THE PHOTOGRAPHS

3 out of 5 stars

A film about reflections and perceptions, Takeshi Kushida’s Woman of the Photographs is a film which illustrates how photography and photographs help craft who we are to ourselves and to others. The Japanese film is a slow moving psychological drama that follows a mute photographer and and a social media influencer after their lives intersect after a chance meeting in the woods. 

Hideki Nagai is the photographer with a sideline in photoshopping and airbrushing photographs. His life is simple and precise and he spends his spare time feeding his pet mantis and photographing insects. During one of his photographic sojourns into the woods, social media star and model Kyoko (Itsuki Otaki) literally falls into his life from a tree. Kyoko is a failing social media star whose followers are dwindling, but things turn around when the injuries from her accident help illustrate to her fans beauty does not need to be perfect. 

Kushida takes our current obsession with the perfect photograph and shines a spotlight on how it impacts us and those arounds us. One of the photographer’s customers is a young woman who is constantly returning to his shop to tweak and amend her dating profile image. Her belief is that whoever falls in love with her image will then project that onto her – and that is who she will ultimately become. Meanwhile. Kyoko’s livelihood depends on her appearance and she discovers that her injuries have given her a career resurgence, but she knows that as her injuries heal, her popularity will once again decline. Kushida shows us that our shifting perceptions of ourselves has more to do with what others see in us, rather than what we see in our own reflections. 

A film which follows the precision of its protagonist, Kushida unspools the details of  Woman of the Photographs slowly and carefully. It’s a well positioned piece until the final act, which ironically for a film about photography, begins to loose focus as it embraces the fantastical. However, that doesn’t stop it from being an engaging and thought-provoking piece of world cinema.