Kabukicho Love Hotel ★★★★★

TL;DR version:
The number of coincidental plot points Hiroki crams into the film is beyond eye-rolling.
If you introduce your characters by them giving a three minute expository sob story of their whole life, you're doing it wrong.
Hiroki makes you feel real empathy for FIFTEEN unbelievable characters.
The flick is filled with great actors/actresses and Hiroki gives the money shot to the J-pop girl from AKB48 who can't act her way out of a paper bag and she nails it.


Bloviated version:

If this film was four hours long, which it could easily have been, it would be Hiroki's Love Exposure. In many ways Hiroki is a perfect flip-side analog to Sion Sono. Hiroki is a craftsman and a gentle soul; Sono is a batshit crazy guerrilla poet. They are both kind of pervy; they can both whip out a film in the time it takes most film makers to come up with the idea for one. Most of all they both have some special sauce that allows them to communicate with actors and get them into a space where they will deliver depth--so we can witness what's inside them.

The genius that is Ryuichi Hiroki ...

Kabukichô Love Hotel breaks two fundamental rules of scripting a film:

Don't over-plot your story to the point you have to introduce eye-rolling coincidences in order to get through it in some "normal" amount of run time.
Don't make your actors spew expository dialog to provide background to a character if it's way out of bounds from the way someone would normally talk.

This is what "Oh no, don't shoot, Hey! Great shot" is all about. In other words: Don't do this, but if you do, it better be fucking good, and if it's good it'll be way better than if you took some chicken shit approach that might fail anyway.

An Example of #1:

The film takes place over the course of 24 hours, give or take, which includes one night at this Love Motel. One of the main characters is the manager at said motel. During this one night his character lives through his little sister showing up there to shoot a porn movie AND his girlfriend who shows up to sleep with a record label executive in order to get a contract. Neither of the girls know he works there (he's not proud of it and has kept it secret), and he is not aware that either of the girls would indulge in such activities. I mean, GIMME a BREAK. Just those two plot points alone, even if it didn't strain credulity that they would happen the same night, would be enough for an entire film to sort out. Here they are just a couple things that happen on the way to the incredulous other plot points the fully fleshed out other dozen or so characters go through during the course of this one night.

An Example of #2:

Well ... the whole film is #2. Each of the dozen or more characters introduce themselves with something along the lines of: "Hi, I'm John who was born in a ghetto and walked nineteen miles to school without shoes because my abusive alcoholic father ran away with all the money my mother had saved up for an operation to save her life before my house burned down and I was abducted by aliens". I mean, GIMME a BREAK. Almost every character in the film delivers a background monologue which is supposed to explain how they ended up in this sleazy love motel. It's like a competition for who's experienced the most sorrow. I rolled my eyes at the beginning of every one of them and found myself experiencing real empathy toward the character by the time they finished.

How does Hiroki get away with taking a dump on these two very fundamental rules of script writing?

One of the reasons is, he doesn't give a shit. He's not trying to fool anyone, trying to be clever by half. It's a fucking movie. If you want a story, go read a book. But this is where he is clever. Good characters are a story by default. Bad writers get in the way of that by trying to force the clever story that's in their head onto the character, with brute force if needed, so maybe we marvel at the story not caring who it's about. For Hiroki the story isn't what the character travels through in space and time. The story is the character, some nebulous eruption of real humanity. Inside them. Revealed, not manufactured.

Good actors are required for this kind of work. Hiroki knows how to pick them, and he knows how to get out of their way and how to get the most out of them. He's made some mistakes, and he's made some terrible movies.

This very Japanese film, Kabukichô Love Hotel, belongs to the brilliant, fluent in Japanese, Korean actress Lee Eun-woo. It belongs to her because she owns it, she pwns it, not because it's about her. She has more charisma than 90% of the Koreans who call themselves actresses put together.

Eun-woo Mobius.jpg ​

Oops. That's a shot of her in Moebius. A film where she cuts off her son's penis and eats it to spite her cheating husband.

Eun-woo-eating-Moebius.jpg ​

The husband then has his own dick surgically transplanted onto his son, and then she has sex with her son because, after all, it's her husband's dick. But I digress ...

Lee Eun-woo can eat-act well. No small feat. She will go boldly where no one has gone before--which makes her dangerous. And gives her power. She's smoking hot in spite of her unattractive and tragically out of place fake tits. Why!? Why! Why!? Most actors let us inside, show us their soul, through their eyes. Look at those eyes. She doesn't need them. In Kabukichô Love Hotel she lets us inside while wearing a blindfold. That she is also naked in a bathtub, with fake tits on full display, is zero distraction.

All the characters in Kabukichô Love Hotel are great. I call. No use going on and on about them. Lets just skip to the ending.

The motel manager and his girlfriend bookend the film. That's them on the poster. Their story ends sadly, except if you aren't paying attention after the credits start rolling you'll miss a shout out to loveliness for one of them. Eun-woo's character may have the most screen time. Her story ends deliciously ambiguous: could be her worst nightmare, or a sappy happy ending--because she's brilliant and scary enough you can't tell. Her departure from our lives takes place as the credit roll begins. There are a couple other quick wrap-ups of character during the credit roll and then when it's done the one truly straight up happy ending takes place--for my second favorite character in the film, the motel cleaning lady. Hiroki goes from sad through ambiguous to happy with the endings. Story matters.