Lowlife Love (2015) by Eiji Uchida

A sharp comment on the Japanese no-budget film industry…

The article was first published on EasternKicks

Adam Torel and Third Window’s first solo production in Japan is a no-budget film about no-budget films and the people surrounding the industry. However, if one expected any kind of glorification, he is in for a treat.

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Tetsuo is a film director who had a mild success with a film he shot some years ago, but has not produced anything from that point on and his life is in shambles. He is 39-year-old, he still lives with his parents and sister in a small house and is in constant lack of money. His minuscule income comes from some overpriced acting lesson he gives to a number of students he has promised to include in his next film, and from shooting AV videos that he sells via his assistant named Yoshihiko, to some Yakuza.

Eventually, hope appears in front of him in the faces of two new students: Minami, a timid and naive girl who wants to be an actress and Ken, a script writer. Both of them appear to be extremely talented and Tetsuo believes he will be finally able to shoot a film the way he wants to. Around those characters roams Kida, a suspicious producer and former director; Kyoko, a ruthless aspiring actress; Kano, a former indie director who has become commercially successful, and Kaede, a girl obsessed with Tetsuo.


Eiji Uchida centers his film on the two words of the title. The first one actually describes the various characters appearing in the film, not one of whom appears to be decent or unselfish. The one in the top however is definitely Tetsuo, played in a suitably awful fashion by Kiyohiko Shibukawa . His character is immature, lazy, devious and in constant readiness to exploit each and everyone around him to achieve his goals of shooting a film, earning money and having sex. Accordingly, he tricks girls into sleeping with him by promising them roles in his films, he steals his father's pension, he tries to enroll in a Christian church in order for them to sponsor him, and he exploits Yoshihiko and Kaede, who are unconditionally faithful to him. However, due to some circumstances occurring later in the film, he becomes the victim and subsequently presents another self that is not that awful, thus managing eventually to become a likeable character.

Kida, played by the smooth as always Denden, is another product of the specific environment, trying to exploit anyone who comes across his way, although he somewhat differs from the majority, because he has managed to accumulate money and produce films, thus placed in the top of the “food chain”, above the filmmakers.


In the lowest level reside the female actresses, who are willing to constantly make fools of themselves in front of directors and are even eager to have sex with them in order to be cast. Kyoko, who even vets directors after bringing them home and before she sleeps with them, represents a distinct example of this tendency. Minami  initially appears to differ from the other girls in the field, soon, though, experiences a radical metamorphosis, in one of the film’s most shocking aspects. Lastly, Kanji Furitachi  plays Kano, an utterly disillusioned about the industry director, that acknowledges the fact that he has sold out his artistic integrity to make money, although his tactics towards women do not differ from the rest of them. Most of the messages Uchida wants to communicate are presented through him and particularly the reason why all of the aforementioned keep on struggling on this awful field. The answer is because they love filmmaking, not in a pure way though, but like the love an addict has for drugs. This message is where the second word of the title finds its meaning.

Obviously, the overall depiction of the no-budget industry is gruesome, especially for actresses, who are presented as prey for the male filmmakers, particularly because they are intent on shagging their way into movies. The approach the director takes towards them borders on misogyny, although he stresses the fact that since the directors are not even slightly better humans than they are, sex is actually their only way to make it. In that fashion, Uchida presents another pessimistic message, that of total hopelessness in the industry for them all, a notion that becomes even more evident in the ending scene.


However, somewhere in all of this, Uchida managed to include some humour, chiefly through the behaviour of Tetsuo, Kida, and Kaede. One of the most hilarious scenes of the film takes place in Kaede’s room, where she keeps a picture of Tetsuo’s head in the wall, occasionally writing her opinion of him on it.

In the technical aspect, the film looks quite good considering its budget, with the cinematography focusing in the realistic depiction of the harsh reality Uchida wants to present. Unavoidably, most of the scenes are shot in interior sets, although the fact is not bothersome by any means. Music is scarce, however the performances by Tjiros in the beginning and the end of the film are wonderful. (The fact that the voice comes from a female singer came as a big surprise.)

Overall, "Lowlife Love" is evidently an overachiever, owing its prowess in the magnificent cast led by Kiyohiko Shibukawa, and the “pull no punches” script and direction. How any feminist will perceive it though, is a whole other issue.


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Asian Film Vault: Lowlife Love (2015) by Eiji Uchida
Lowlife Love (2015) by Eiji Uchida
A sharp comment on the Japanese no-budget film industry…
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