She’s Just a Shadow is an independent effort that wears its inspirations like the lollipop idol makeup that masks the faces of the prostitutes who fill it. It aims its goals for pulp and sleaze akin to the work of Takashi Miike, Sion Sono, and even Quentin Tarantino. It aspires to be a hyper-kinetic, ultra-violent ballet of blood and sexuality–and visually it more than hits the mark. It’s shot in pure decadence and extravagance with breasts and butts near-constantly burnt on the screen. The lighting uses blaring reds and blues like the world is one huge nightclub. The violence is fast with big splurts of dark blood. Retro dissolves give surreal glimpses of writhing masses of tangled bodies and literal showers of blood. Like a paranoid drug-laced wet dream, it’s both lush and lurid, decadent and demented. It’s an evocative picture of pulpy excess.
If only the acting and the script were a little tighter, this would be something truly special.
She’s Just a Shadow
Director: Adam Sherman
Release Date: July 19 (Limited)
She’s Just a Shadow opens with an obese police officer popping his cruiser’s trunk to reveal a naked young woman bound within. He removes her, ties her to a set of train tracks, and films himself masturbating over her body as a blinding, howling train approaches. He climaxes just as that train blasts the woman to oblivion. Clearly this is a movie that knows how to get my attention.
At the time, this doesn’t affect Irene (Tao Okamoto), owner and co-runner of one of the city’s top-tier brothels, all her girls dressed in colorful wigs and faces made-up in glitter. She’s inherited the business from her parents, now too old to run the show, and delegates most of the responsibility to her mentally-unraveling lover, Red Hot (Kentez Asaka). Red Hot’s own right-hand man, Gaven (Kihiro) is growing tired of the lifestyle and wants to run away with one of the girls. Just as Gaven’s about to enact his escape plan, however, a gang rivalry upends the group while the tech-savvy serial killer begins to pick off their girls one by one.
As a display of the deterioration of a group always leaping from one high to the next, wrecking themselves with drugs and alcohol, She’s Just a Shadow does a stellar job. Red Hot becomes more paranoid and aggressive right down to violently spanking Irene with a laptop until it breaks in half. Gaven is gaunt and blasted out. The girls seem to confuse partying and mayhem, and by the end all the visual elements mesh into one long bloody sequence of prolonged deaths and writhing, naked bodies which carries its thematic weight to a fitting conclusion.
Unfortunately, the script and often stilted performances mire some of the lurid beauty of the film. There’s a litany of fauxlosophy lines that always hit my ear as meaningless platitudes. “Women are shadows, but then again aren’t we all shadows?” “She had one foot in the grave, but she seemed more alive than ever.” “There are two kinds of love: Strawberry love and Twinkie love.” You get the idea. Dialogue overplaying its emotional weight mixed with weird comedy shticks bring the whole experience down a bit. One scene has Gaven trying to order a sandwich for a girl who hasn’t had anything but booze and drugs for days straight, but she wants a cheese steak without the steak. The next couple minutes see him, the girl, and others in the room repeating “cheese steak but without the steak” so many times you start to think you’ve stumbled into some very bizarre episode of Seinfeld.
Visually, She’s Just a Shadow is leagues beyond most other attempts at this pulpy orgy of drugs and violence. It’s a striking and artistic bit of exploitation, and if you want to watching something like Why Don’t You Go Play in Hell but without the subtitles, you could do a lot worse. Just be prepared for a script that doesn’t quite hit the heights its sets out to achieve.