When director Ryuichi Hiroki came out to introduce Kabukicho Love Hotel, he said something to the effect of, “Please stay through the credits. After the credits, you will see some hope.” It wasn’t really advice so much as it was a warning: “You’re about to watch something that is going to crush your spirits.”
I’m glad he said that, because it gave me time to prepare. It also made me dread everything that was to come. Things don’t go wrong right away, so you have to watch people being happy (or at least not sad) knowing full well that life isn’t going to turn out alright. And even though the credits themselves (not just the stinger) offer glimpses of hope, the movie doesn’t really offer much of it.
It takes place, unsurprisingly, in a love hotel. Throughout the day, people come and go, and we get to see bits and pieces of their lives. We find out who they are, what they want, and why they’re at the love hotel. Each story is unique and compelling, and it’s the ensemble that makes Kabukicho Love Hotel a great film. The characters all feel natural, so you’re particularly crushed when you’re hit with the realization that a relationship is about to end or that someone is in physical danger. The film uses a handheld style and long takes that give everything a naturalistic feel, like they’re real things being documented. And that’s almost true, since many of the shots were done in a single take with little to no rehearsal. That leads to moments of silence in long takes that likely would have been shortened or cut entirely had there been more time spent on them, but it’s in those quiet moments where any other film would cut that Kabukicho Love Hotel feels alive. Sometimes those shots are exhausting, but they never feel excessive.
You want them to cut away, but it’s because you want to be let off the hook. You don’t want to see what’s happening to the characters. But regardless of what you want, the characters will keep going down the paths that lead to their own destruction. You can’t look away, and the film won’t let you.
Kabukicho Love Hotel (Sayonara Kabukicho | さよなら歌舞伎町)
Director: Ryuichi Hiroki