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DVD Review: ‘Kotoko’

★★★★☆

From Shin’ya Tsukamoto, the visionary director of 1989’s Tetsuo: The Iron Man, comes Kotoko (2011) – an uncompromising voyage into the troubled mind of a young mother that’s profoundly unsettling and severely disturbing. Kotoko follows the story of a single mother (played with breathtaking luminosity by J-pop superstar Cocco) teetering on the edge of a metal breakdown since suffering from double vision, turning her everyday life into an unbearable series of encounters.

Amid apparently threatening doppelgängers and the constant uncertainty of what’s real and what’s fake, Kotoko descends into a world of self-harm and violent acts against those she believes are here to harm her. Her only escape is the soft lilting folk songs she sings to calm her fractured state of consciousness. One day, her song is heard by a novelist, who becomes so besotted with her that he’s willing to let her beat him to within an inch of his life in order to establish an intimate relationship with her.

Opening with an ear-pounding tornado of industrial sounds that crudely punctuates Kotoko’s struggle to differentiate between actuality and illusion. Only sporadically does Tsukamoto soften the focus, using the gentle lullabies Kotoko sings in order to diminish her crippling mental agitation. However, this is often little more than the calm before a catastrophic storm of extreme violence and paralysing anxiety. The addition of a young, screaming child to this chaotic dynamic adds a palpable frailty to the events that unfold, culminating in a nerve shredding degree of tension rarely aroused with such a fervent disregard for the audiences psychological well-being.

Kotoko is often captured speaking directly to the camera, with Tsukamoto constantly leaving us questioning what is real and what isn’t, amplifying matters with frenzied hand-held camerawork that creates an unrelenting and deeply harrowing experience of uncomfortable uncertainty. Add to this Tsukamoto’s erratic and unpredictable edits and you have an uncontrollable boiling pot of anarchy, taking this distinctive director’s flare for chaos and implementing into an uncompromisingly bleak domestic dynamic with devastating effect.

Almost unbearably intense, Kotoko is a unique and unconventional horror film about maternal anxiety that amplifies the subtly hysteria which can often befall postnatal depression into an incredibly traumatic and penetrating film. An extremely abrasive and phenomenally exhausting examination of neurosis, Kotoko may just be one of the most unrelenting and nauseating horror films of the last decade.

Patrick Gamble