2/Duo (2/dyuo) 2 Duo [1997] • Japan

This is a rare gem. The feature film debut of director Nobuhiro Suwa. It's a no-budget, mostly improvised slice of emotionally repressed life which observes a young couple for a short period of time as they struggle to communicate. I wouldn't say things are going badly for them at this particular point in their lives, they seem very much in love, but the relationship is uncomfortable.

Kei (Nishijima) is a struggling actor, freeloading off Yu (Eri Yu) which makes him impulsive and insecure resulting in unpredictable behavior, fits of anger, and a proposal of marriage. Yu works in a boutique as a shop assistant and seems to be playing the archetype of the abused and unappreciated Japanese woman who tackles her fate with a Zen determinism. Her habit of laughing during the most tense and awkward moments makes her appear a little unstable but also very real, almost surreal.

Even without a handful of scenes where the characters (the actors?) are interviewed about their feelings by an off-screen voice, the film has a fly-on-the-wall documentary feel. 2 Duo is a quietly disturbing character study and the blurring of fiction with documentary might serve to enhance the impact but I'm not interested in critiquing the film from that angle. This is a film which lets us observe the surface interactions of a couple characters that clearly have immense depth. With its crisp vision, assured direction, and most of all its fine acting we really don't need any meta-narrative in order to be fully engaged. I'll leave it to film school students to comment on the ramifications of the documentary style interviews if such a critical look is needed.

This is a small, quiet film with characters that seem overflowing with histories right when we meet them. It's a little sad and painful but it's executed so well there's an uplifting quality to it. This is mostly due to the performance of Eri Yu, who went on to make a few more films but then seems to have disappeared from the industry. Nishijima's performance isn't quite the caliber of Yu's, or perhaps his character isn't as interesting. Being a jerk isn't as complex as being someone who bes with that jerk with their head held high, slightly wobbling.

Director: Nobuhiro Suwa
Starring: Eri Yu, Hidetoshi Nishijima, Makiko Watanabe


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