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by Jay Seaver

"Short, decidedly not sweet."
4 stars

SCREENED AT BOSTON UNDERGROUND FILM FESTIVAL 16: The folks who made "Kept" don't usually do this sort of thing; their names usually show up on light-hearted but bloody genre movies. The same lo-fi methods and sensibilities are in place here as Maki Mizui makes her first film as a director, even if the subject matter trends toward real-world horrors.

Those threats don't come with a whole lot of warning; Misasto (Mohoma), a woman in her early twenties, is walking home from work one evening when she is snatched off the street, blindfolded, and taken to a quiet area by an anonymous man who is about the same age (Ken Koba). Misato starts talking to her abductor, whether from nerves or figuring it will make him less likely to do something even more violent, and maybe that's part of why things go the way they do over the next several weeks or months.

Mizui could have followed a number of well-worn paths - the procedural, the revenge thriller, the drama emphasizing others' reactions - but instead half the movie seems to go into a state of shell-shock. It's a thorough enough withdrawal that when new characters are introduced, they almost seem like complete replacements of the previous protagonists, setting up a structure akin to Psycho. It's not quite what Mizui is going for, creating a bit of confusion later on, but it works on other fronts.

There's plenty to ponder as the movie plays out after its opening act. The publicity materials mention that Mizui based this on events from her own life, which I wouldn't wish on anyone, and she does not flinch from things that may make audience members think in ways they may want to retract immediately. There are a couple scenes with the nameless (I think) attacker and his girlfriend designed to make one think "man, if she hadn't been so frosty..." before hopefully taking a moment to consider why people are so willing to transfer blame away from the actual criminal in these situations, including onto the victims - with the victims themselves not exempt.

That last situation gives rise to a few sequences in the second half that had me thinking things site got weird quickly as a look inside a character's fractured psyche gives producer Yoshihiro Nishimura and his crew a chance to use their makeup/FX skills on something other than the immediate aftermath of violence. While the exact symbolism of those scenes isn't always immediately obvious, the general feel is, and they are striking. Mizui and company seem to use their horror-movie experience in other interesting ways, too - the way Misato being blindfolded and gagged renders her almost literally faceless is something that makers of more mainstream fare might not want to do in a serious movie, but which is extremely effective.

The B-movie background of the filmmakers often shows - "Kept" is short, cheap, and has a cast filled with single-name "idols" not likely to rise much higher in Japan's high-turnover celebrity culture. It works, though, in large part because of its legitimate lack of polish. Even the fantasy sequences feel grounded and honest, a way into the heads of the character and filmmaker, and not just a chance to use something ugly to show off.

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originally posted: 04/10/14 13:30:04
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OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2014 Boston Underground Film Festival For more in the 2014 Boston Underground Film Festival series, click here.

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Directed by
  Maki Mizui

Written by
  Maki Mizui

  Ken Koba
  Hiroko Yashiki
  Moe Sakura

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