DIRECTED BY: Adam Sherman
FEATURING: Tao Okamoto, Kihiro, Kentez Asaka, Marcus Johnson
PLOT: The matriarch of a prostitution empire, married to a violent pimp, leads her gang against a rival band of yakuza while a serial killer preys on her girls and one of her lackeys is caught in a love triangle.
WHY IT WON’T MAKE THE LIST: This super-stylized, candy colored exploitationer with a couple of precognitive hallucination scenes feels like a budget version of Kill Bill insistent on earning an NC-17 rating. It’s well off the beaten path, but still only on the outskirts of the truly weird.
COMMENTS: A movie that opens with a serial killer binding and tying his nude victim to train tracks and then pleasuring himself as the locomotive approaches is a movie that knows the audience it’s after. She’s Just a Shadow gives you all the perverted thrills you could ask for—sushi served off naked hookers, constant coke-sniffing, an infirmary full of shot-up whores —all wrapped up in a slick, arty package with professional lighting, elaborate costuming, and acres of nudes.
Shot mostly in the neon-lit night or carefully controlled interiors, Shadow is a great-looking film, but unfortunately loses points due to acting that is not up to the professionalism of the cinematography. Former Ralph Lauren model Tao Okamoto has had major roles in Hollywood superhero movies I haven’t seen, so I can’t say she’s an amateur, but she could have fooled me with her performance here. Her line deliveries are almost completely drab and inflectionless; the lack of emoting reminds me of nothing more than Madeleine Reynal’s deliberately blank performance in Dr. Caligari. She smokes a lot, so her long drags off her thin black cigarette help explain the frequent pauses in her delivery. Making his acting debut as a flunky whose main duty in the syndicate seems to be drinking and sleeping with a pair of the girls 24/7, J-pop musician Kihiro is a little better, but not quite ready to be a leading man; his role requires him to be strung-out and exhausted most of the time, partly compensating for his lack of passion. With the two leads being so laid back, it’s left to a bodyguard named “Knockout” (Marcus Johnson) to bring the most energy, though only in a small role. Main bad guy Kentez Asaka can act, but not without a distracting accent sported by none of the rest of the cast (some of whom speak the Queen’s English despite playing Japanese gangsters).
The screenplay, too, is not up to the standard set by the visuals. Shadow‘s characters can be insultingly dumb when it advances the plot. The dialogue treads a line between cliched and risible. Trite ideas are rendered in eyebrow-raising prose: “Both Jesus and the garbageman wanted a little more time when they were carrying their loads up their separate hills,” muses one character. Later he gives us the even cringier observation, “Women… no matter how human they seem, they’re not. They’re just shadows. But on the other hand, aren’t we all?” Lines like these give Shadow an extra layer of unintentional (?) camp, something that doesn’t work entirely against the film—and will likely be overlooked, anyway, by those looking for cheap thrills.
Despite its handicaps, Shadow will slay many with its over-the-top grindhouse audacity. Director Adam Sherman has clearly absorbed aand flick or two, and while the acting is bland and the dialogue may elicit some chuckles, the wild and colorful visuals are up to his influences, and he goes all out to give the audience what they crave, with little filter on the stylish sleaze and depravity. If you’re a fan of modern yakuza exploitation flicks, you’ll probably dig this.
She’s Just a Shadow opens in New York City (and possibly elsewhere) this Friday, July 19; it will probably find a more natural home on VOD soon after.
WHAT THE CRITICS SAY: