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Kasane
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by Jay Seaver

"Twice as crazy."
4 stars

SCREENED AT THE 2018 FANTASIA INTERNATIONAL FILM FESTIVAL: "Kasane" is not exactly subtle with the archetypes it plays with, announcing them in big, bold capital letters as the title character progresses from one stage of the film to another, giving the audience whiplash and making them pause to say "wait, what?" multiple times. But a fantasy that takes place in and around the theater can work with melodrama, and this one certainly does. It feels like it could become a huge cult film if it can get in front of people.

Kasane Fuchi (Kyoko Yoshine) lives a lonely life due in large part to the nasty scar on her face, a cruel irony considering that her late mother was an actress famed for her beauty. What agent Kingo Habuta (Tadanobu Asano) approaches her, it seems like a cruel joke, but he knew her mother and about the special lipstick she gave to Kasane - the one that will allow the person wearing it to exchange faces for twelve hours with someone she kisses. Habuta has a client, Nina Tanzawa (Tao Tsuchiya), who is very pretty and well-aware of that but whose acting ability is not nearly at the level it needs to be for a production of The Seagull directed by the legendary Reita Ugo (Yu Yokoyama). Kasane is a prodigy, so Habuta proposes an arrangement. It doesn't exactly take into account the attraction between actress and director, and definitely doesn't take into account...

Well, let's stop there, because the movie has not one but two crazy, huge-stretch plot devices, and while the twist at roughly the halfway point is not bigger, it's roughly the same order of magnitude, and two big things like this is more than one generally lets a movie have for free. It is, however, a fantastic way to swerve once the audience picks their jaws up off the floor - the script by Tsutomu Kuroiwa has already made the necessary Cinderella references so it's not too much to make the leap to fairy tales that more directly involve kissing. More than that, though, it allows the filmmakers to shake up the story in interesting ways, closing the gap between the shallow and cruel Nina and the shy, exploited Kasane to a point where the audience's sympathies can be as fluid as the characters' identities, and the revelations that Nina digs up with time on her hands get to be enjoyably lurid without the movie having to lean too hard on how surprising or shocking even a cynical viewer might find them.

Kuroiwa and director Yuichi Sato handle a lot of the storytelling problems that often come with adapting a long-running, serial manga with elan, seeming pretty ruthless in how they handles having more characters than necessary at any given point and compressing other scenes until they're just what's needed. They're good at moving from a slow build to get the audience up to speed to a quicker pace, with flashbacks and subplots and double-crosses as it gets to the end. They play with set design in fun ways, and never fear giving the audience a fun bit of whiplash by cutting between theatrical glamor and horror-movie material.

But it's also got a pair of impressive actresses each giving a pair of highly enjoyable performances, although even that is probably underestimating what they're doing - you might say the actress are each giving three to five performances once the finale is playing itself out and we're seeing Tao Tsuchiya playing Kasane playing Nina playing Salome, for example. Both Tsuchiya and Kyoko Yoshine do such an excellent job of trading characters that it becomes easier to buy into the film's premise than think about the two actresses working in sync; the audience sees Kasane going from ashamed to liberated-but.shy and Nina going from bitchy to kind of defiant rather than Yoshine and Tsuchiya playing what the other's character would be like under different circumstances, and they keep this up even as the story shifts their characters' baselines in the second half. You can almost miss the fun Tadanobu Asano seems to be having as Nina's slimy manager, delivering lines about how Kasane has "the intensity that only an ugly woman possesses" with just the sort of callous indifference disguised as wisdom.

"Kasane" is big, trashy soap at heart, but unashamed of being that and as such never timid. Some will call it a guilty pleasure, but it's honestly too good for guilt.

link directly to this review at http://www.efilmcritic.com/review.php?movie=32431&reviewer=371
originally posted: 11/27/18 14:20:34
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OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2018 Fantasia International Film Festival For more in the 2018 Fantasia International Film Festival series, click here.

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Directed by
  Yuichi Sato

Written by
  Tsutomu Kuroiwa

Cast
  Tao Tsuchiya
  Kyoko Yoshine
  Yu Yokoyama
  Tadanobu Asano
  Rei Dan
  Macaulay Callard



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