Map of the Sounds of Tokyo

You will meet a dark stranger and be contracted to kill him
★★★
☆☆
Released: 
2009
Director: 
Isabel Coixet
Starring: 
Rinko Kikuchi, Sergi Lopez, Min Tanaka, Manabu Oshio
The Setup: 
Greiving man ends up in an affair with the woman contracted to kill him.
Discussion: 

I saw the trailer for this on some other disc, and it shot straight to the top of my list because it promised one appealing thing: The promise of lots of sex with Sergi Lopez, the guy who played the hot fascist in Pan's Labyrinth. Turns out this is written and directed by Isabel Coixet, who also did Elegy and My Life Without Me. So she's not some nobody, she has an established record, and it's probable this received only the tiniest release in the US because it simply has less American appeal than those other flicks.

The first 45 minutes will keep you pleasantly confused. We open with a high-powered business dinner in which men are eating sushi off of a naked woman. An older businessman, Nagara, starts to freak out, apparantly at the blatant objectification of it all, and his younger colleague soothes him, while everyone else is like "What?!" Then we have some pretty opening credits in which the titles unfurl in curling lines over photography of Tokyo looking more beautiful than it usually comes off in movies. We see the women who were covered in shushi washing themselves off with lemons after their shift, and meet Ryu, lovely but emotionally-disaffected woman. She catches the attention of this older guy who records sounds for movies and television, and is attracted to the sound of her slurping her soup [some guys are into legs, some into butts, some into soup-slurping]. He starts recordings of conversations with Ryu, fascinated by her disaffection. Then we're back with Nagara, who visits his daughter's apartment, and finds "Why didn't you love me as I love you?" written in blood on her bathroom mirror. He finds a picture in her apartment of Sergi as David.

Now at this point I thought that Ryu was the dead daughter--who comitted suicide--but she's actually someone else. And she doesn't work as a human sushi platter, but in a fish processing plant. But she has a little sideline--as an assassin-for-hire! A girl's got to have pocket money. So before you know it, she is hired by Nagara and son to kill David, who they blame for the daugter's suicide, since European guys' ain't no good and they think he was just using her. All this took quite a while to figure out, but it was a nice and intriguing confusion.

SPOILERS > > >
So Ryu finds David at his wine shop and goes in, posing as a customer. She's lining up a way to kill him, but finds him interesting, and they go and have dinner. After a nice talk and some drinks, they go to one of those Japanese motels, run by vending machine, in which there are different theme rooms for sex. They choose a room made up to look like a subway car. It was 50 minutes into the movie, and when you consider that the whole reason I watched this was to see Sergi naked, it says something that everything up to now had kept my interest. On the way our Ryu pulls out her gun to plug the sleeping David, but chooses not to.

Here, unfortunately, is where interest starts to gradually deflate. They meet again, and David confesses to her that he's just using her to get through the pain of losing his girlfriend. She's cool with that. Also apparent by now is that this is a "women's movie" in the best way, in that the attraction is psychological and the sex more than just pumping, and focused on relating and holding and, you got it, cunnilingus. LENGTHY cunnilingus. It goes on a while, and soon Ryu is trying to get out of her contract for murder and offers to return the money. Eventually David decides to return to Spain and, well, those contract killing assignments are hard to just cancel. David returns to Spain with a whole lot of additional baggage surrounding intimacy and commitment.
< < < SPOILERS END

Unfortunately, by the end, you realize that there just isn't that much there, and then you start to realize why this movie didn't receive a wider release than it did. And then you might reflect that the whole reason the first half was so intriguing was that it is edited in such a way that it takes a while to figure out, and that if it weren't edited that way, the story isn't quite enough to sustain a full-length movie. So it's a bit of a disappointment to come to the end and be left with a feeling of "Hmm, I'm not sure I needed to watch that at all."

But it's intriguing enough for the first half, and as I said, it has a refreshingly feminine perspective on human relations, allowing for the slow flowering of emotions and several states of mind while having sex. And one doesn't get the impression, as one does from other "women's films" such as While She Was Out or In The Cut, that the director hates men, deplores that men want to have sex, and is using her film to provide evidence for the view that men are pigs. Here, David is a deeply-feeling, nuanced individual who is using sex to salve his emotional wounds, which the movie doesn't count him as a lower form of life for doing, and that's a nice change of pace.

All that said, there was one thing that annoyed me about this film, which is not so much the problem of the film, but just a trend it fits into. You know how you’re a reasonable, college-educated person who is savvy to media manipulation and all that, but at some point have to face that your head is full of fantasies about what life should be like that slipped in from movies and TV while you weren’t paying attention? This movie is one of those. It’s artsy and well-done, but still supports those kind of fantasies, notably that if you’re lonely and disaffected after having your heart crushed by your partner’s suicide, a fascinating and sexy stranger will appear in your life and draw you into some new emotional intrigue within a maximum of 30 days. Sure, she may be a contract killer sent to assassinate you, but all relationships have complications. If you’re a disaffected contract killer, your next mark will be a sexy and soulful Spaniard who owns an upscale wine shop and falls immediately under your spell. It always works out that way. Which results in the moment I know I’ve had, where you’re standing on the streetcorner thinking “Okay, I’m lonely, depressed and fucked over by life… so surely some sexy troubled but affluent and cultured museum curator is going to show up any second now, right? And sweep me into some kind of intriguingly kinky and soul-changing personal drama, right? Any second now? Isn’t that just the way it happens?”

So ultimately a nice, intriguing film with an engaging premise, although sadly one that comes out a bit less than it seems by the end.

Should you watch it: 

If you feel like it, although it's quite unnecessary.