It’s hard to offend me. Really hard. For a while, I thought it might be almost impossible. Not even A Serbian Film offended me (though it greatly disturbed me). At last year’s Japan Cuts, I found out I was wrong: I can be offended. Hard Romanticker proved that. It’s a poorly made film made much worse by its horrific treatment of women. But while it was bad, it didn’t revolve around rape and misogyny, which made it marginally more palatable. I hated it, but it didn’t consume me in the way that the truly worst films do.
A Woman and War will consume me. In five years, I’ll be homeless, sleeping on a bench in front of the Japan Society shouting into a stolen megaphone about how it ruined my life. A Woman and War is misogyny in film form. No, you know what? It’s a disgusting, vile thing that doesn’t even deserve to be called a film. It’s trash. Horrible, disgusting trash.
[For the next few weeks, we will be covering the 2013 New York Asian Film Festival and the 2013 Japan Cuts Film Festival, which together form one of the largest showcases of Asian cinema in the world. For our NYAFF 2013 coverage, click here. For Japan Cuts 2013 coverage, click here.]
A Woman and War (Senso to Hitori no Onna | 戦争と一人の女)
Director: Junichi Inoue
About two-thirds of the way through A Woman and War, I felt a sort of serenity wash over me. I realized that I was bearing witness to one of the worst things ever created. I knew that it was a complete failure on every level, and that nothing would change. It could have been the first time I ever walked out of a theater. But I didn’t, because I wanted to write this review. Our review policy states that we can only write about things we’ve seen all the way through. I can’t walk out halfway and then claim that it’s terrible. I need to endure through the whole thing if I want to warn everyone else not to do the same. So I sat back in my seat, put my feet up, and suffered. I died so that you may live.
Have you heard of the Bechdel Test? It’s a list of three criteria that something must follow if it wants to claim that it’s got some measure of gender equality. The criteria are:
- There are two (named) female characters…
- Who talk to each other…
- About something other than men.
Seems pretty straightforward, right? I don’t know why, but I expected that something with a title like A Woman and War to maybe possibly pass that test. Because it’s about a woman, right? And war. Usually war is portrayed as such a macho manly thing, so I think I thought that maybe they were going to subvert that. Maybe there would be two women who talked about it or something. But as we’ve already concluded: this isn’t a movie; it’s trash, and I don’t really know what I expected anymore.
A Woman and War fails the Bechdel Test so hard it hurts. And maybe I should have realized “A Woman” is not “Women,” so there might not be more than one with any sort of character, but I didn’t. But even then, there are no named female characters. I didn’t realize it until looking at the cast list just now, but the protagonist, the one whose character is part of the title, does not have a name. And even if she did, it wouldn’t mean much, because it’s not like there are any other female characters to talk to. The other females show up on screen, say two lines, and then get raped.
Pretty much every single woman who says one word gets raped at some point. Sometimes their only word is “No.” or “Stop.” Sometimes they have a few lines leading up to it, like “I would like to have rice.” The only woman I can think of who doesn’t get raped is the woman who unhappily offers herself to feed her children. Because, you know, semi-consensual sex would be disgusting.
Let’s back up. So A Woman and War follows three characters: Woman (Noriko Eguchi), a former prostitute who is now a wife I guess but is all about sex; Nomura (Masatoshi Nagase), a writer who I guess is married to Woman but mostly just has sex with her; and Ohira (Jun Murakami), a former soldier who lost an arm in battle and is now a serial rapist. What a ragtag bunch of fuckups, huh?
Let’s talk about Ohira and his serial raping ways. Basically, it goes like this: he tells women that he can get cheap rice (rice is scarce and expensive; there’s a war going on) and they follow him into the woods and then he hits them in the head with a rock and then rapes them and then strangles them. Also, he does this while only having one arm. It’s so fucking stupid that I actually laughed at one point. I laughed at a woman being hit in the head with a rock so she could be raped. How fucked up is that? But I couldn’t help it. She stood there and let him walk over to her, rock in hand, lift it up, and then hit her once in the head. That was it. I was in disbelief (a common theme, you’ll notice). It was actually with each successive rape (he does this at least four times) that I could practically see the number you’ll see below dropping. Subpar, bad, terrible, atrocious… repulsive. Truly fucking repulsive.
But the thing that really gets me about it is that one of the earlier scenes featuring Ohira has him attempting to stop several men from raping a woman in an abandoned building. He is tied up and forced to watch (he gets an erection, of course). Then he goes and rapes people. One would think that maybe the trauma of being forced to see that would somehow have PTSD’d him (he is a veteran, after all) into raping other women. That would have been disgusting, but I would have seen some point to that. But no, he explains that he has been raping people in the military for a long time, because this is a film with a message: war is bad. So why did he try to stop the rape earlier on? Probably so the onscreen rape count could be higher.
Nomura isn’t a bad character so much as he is a worthless character. He is just obsessed with sex and wants to constantly have sex with his war wife, Woman, who is basically willing to comply with whatever, because she wants to be a good war wife. Also because she likes sex, I guess, except she doesn’t like sex. When she was a prostitute, apparently, she taught herself how to not enjoy sex so she could have sex with lots of men in a row without getting exhausted or whatever. Even though she stopped her prostituting ways, she never regained feeling. Nomura wants her to enjoy it and gives her plenty of opportunities to work through those issues. He fails, and in fact, it’s Ohira raping her that finally pushes her over the edge into orgasm. That moment, by the way, was the one that dropped this score into the single digits, for what I believe is the first time in Flixist history. So he’s just useless.
And Woman? Yeah, let’s talk about Woman. I feel bad even mentioning Perfect Blue in the same breath as A Woman and War, but I couldn’t help thinking about the scene where Mima plays a character who gets raped in a nightclub. There’s the very legitimate question of, “Why would she do that to herself?” At every single moment, I was asking that question about all of the women in A Woman and War, and Noriko Eguchi especially. Who could even hear the basic premise of A Woman and War and think that it was a project worth pursuing? All of the women are sex objects, which is bad enough for the random characters who exist only to get raped, but the fucking protagonist? The protagonist of the goddamn thing is just a sex object? She never talks about anything other than sex. There are maybe two paragraphs where she talks about her childhood or something, but it almost immediately returns to sex, because there’s a war going on, and sex. And while these conversations are happening? Sex. He’s either kissing her, licking her, or actually having sex with her.
And that is the entire fucking thing. It’s just sex. Terrible, disgusting sex. Some of it consensual, most of it not. It’s just rape rape rape sex rape sex sex rape rape rape rape. And in between, there are people talking about these things, and how war is bad and makes them be rapists because raping civilians while in the military is the best thing ever. Like Birdemic (the only thing I’ve seen that is worse than A Woman and War), it’s trying to beat you over the head with a stupidly blunt political message. Like Birdemic, it’s lost amidst the incredible incompetence that’s on display. Even if it wasn’t so godawful, it’s not like the message would have made up for it. It’s not original or even interesting. It’s just a thing.
A stupid fucking thing.
When A Woman and War cut to black on the stupidest possible note, I started laughing again. I called up a friend and just laughed. I was in shock. I wasn’t even angry. I was (and still am, two weeks later) in utter disbelief that this thing exists.
What these fifteen hundred words are in service of is this simple message: Do not, under any circumstances, see A Woman and War.
Seriously. Fuck that thing and everyone involved.