Woman of the Photographs Movie Review

Written by Becky Roberts


Written and directed by Takeshi Kushida
2020, 89 minutes, Not Yet Rated
Frightfest UK premiere on 23rd October 2020

Hideki Nagai as Kai
Itsuki Otaki as Kyoko
Toshiaki Inomata
Toki Koinuma


The social media debate is as rife now as it's ever been, with the new Netflix documentary, The Social Dilemma, the latest eye-opener and deafening alarm bell for the consequences and danger of its advent. Takeshi Kushida's Woman of the Photographs isn't about the political impact of social networking, but it does cite the powerful influence it has over self-perceptions and the potential repercussions that can arise.

When misogynistic and introverted photographer Kai encounters an injured young model, Kyoko, who has fallen out of a tree in the woods, he soon finds himself embarking on a strange but sincere romance founded on his fascination with photography and her desire to be photographed. Woman of the Photographs is ultimately, but not overarchingly, a twisted love story (with an effective bit of body-horror thrown in) – a dark humane drama about self-image, loneliness and unlikely relationships.

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It mostly takes place at Kai's photography shop, where he offers a photoshoot and retouching service. A young female customer who has a portrait taken for a match-making profile sees the potential of Kai's airbrushing and obsessively demands more and more corrections to her 'imperfections', widening the gap between her true self and what she believes is her idealized self. "My photo is going to become my true self," she says with a sad certainty as Kai digitally chizzles away at her jaw line.

woman of the photographs 03 woman of the photographs 04

Kyoko – a seemingly lonely drifter who takes up residency in Kai's small live-in shop too faces an identity crisis, questioning her self-conception as her popularity on social media (familiarly quantified through likes and comments on her photos) wanes and her injuries' scars worsen. The recurring circus-like score as Kyoko trawls through her history of posted photos and their interactions serves as reminders of the medium's facade, although Kushida isn't solely critical and can be sympathetic to the retouching profession and the need for fantasy: in one of Woman of the Photograph's most touching scenes, Kai helps his only friend visualise his dead daughter grown-up by aging an old photo of her as a girl.

woman of the photographs 05 woman of the photographs 06

Having found love for the first time in his life, Kai is determined to help Kyoko reinstate her real self – and will do so at all costs, prepared, like the praying mantis he has for a pet, to be metaphorically consumed by the female in order to reach ultimate satisfaction. What transpires is a poignantly sensual (and visually breathtaking) depiction of an unconventional relationship that beats the drum for the truest and most sincere strands of humanity.


Movie: 4 Star Rating Cover

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