iSugio

Topless – Review

by Miguel Douglas

@isugoi

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The ever-lively and upbeat Natsuko tries to mend a broken heart by carrying on with a string of short-lived affairs after her break-up with Tomomi. But when Tomomi announces her plans to marry – a man – Natsuko becomes inconsolable. While all this is taking place, Natsuko’s straight male roommate is grappling with his own feelings for her, and a young high school girl comes to Tokyo searching for the mother that long ago left her for a female lover. Each character – queer, straight, male, female, young, old, and in-between – struggles to make peace with him/herself as all their lives overlap. This story captures the power of young love, and the web of the city.

Topless explores a topic often times omitted within any serious discussion concerning Japanese cinema—that of homosexuality and more promptly, lesbianism. While explored heavily within the realm of Pinku eiga cinema, Topless paints a realistic portrait free of the stereotypical view of what it means for someone to be homosexual in our modern times—more particularly within the bustling metropolis known as Tokyo. Taking carefully steps to avoid clichés so often associated when exploring such a controversial subject, Topless seamlessly integrates topics that have never been fully explored within the context of many modern Japanese film—let alone Japanese society as a whole.

Considering the element of homosexuality within Japanese cinema, Topless delivers a lesbian perspective on love, life, and loss amidst the backdrop of the Tokyo—all the while presenting a universal appeal that any viewer can relate too in some aspect. The film explores issues that many—but not all—Japanese lesbians face within Japan today, most proportionately the will for Japanese lesbian women to marry men solely based on the economic dependence. Many women are forced to reside being lesbian for the sake of financial security, when clearly they do not advocate for such action. Topless isn’t afraid to tackle this issue, and courageously decides to give numerous perspectives on this particular issue and many more.

With the exploration of such modern issues on love and homosexuality in the modern age, Topless gives us characters that present multiple views on such subjects. This gives the film a very unbiased approach, wherein we as the viewer are not coerced into thinking one way on issues that in reality are based upon numerous opinions and thoughts. The various facets that these characters express show the complexity of the issues at hand, but also states that throughout all these differences of opinion, we can still strive to understand one another. This universality is further explored through the cast themselves, where love is subjectively explored to encompass various forms as well. For a film compounded upon through its usage of homosexuality as its centerfold, at its utter core, Topless warmly depicts love as something universal that can be experienced by all.

The societal aspect of the film plays heavily into the interactions of the characters as well. Take for example Kana, a young high school girl who decides to visit Toyko in search of her mother, which isn’t surprising given the circumstances. Kana has garnered a strong distaste for lesbians due to her mother leaving her at a young age in order to be with another women. The complexities arise—and are strongly confronted—when Natsuki, the main protagonist of the film and a lesbian herself, unexpectedly helps Kana seek her mother by guiding her throughout the big city. The irony displayed here is not for unwarranted purposes, but rather to showcase that once understanding is encouraged—even at the most unexpected moments—only then can we confront the social stigmas that hinder us from truly forming friendships and tolerance.

And for all Topless does to contribute reasonable discussion and exploration of such taboo subjects, it does come with some rather insufficient technical and narrative elements. For one, the musical soundtrack is not entirely up to par, and its rather inappropriate usage truly hinders some of the more pivotal scenes within film—scenes where complete silence would have been sufficient enough. Secondly, because the narrative includes numerous individuals, various plotlines were seemingly cut short to accommodate concluding the story. While this doesn’t hurt the film overall, it does seem like some of the narrative was hastily concluded without much continuity to provide the viewer with. This leads to some rather unsatisfying explanations as to what happened to some characters within the film, but is ultimately held together by the story of the main protagonist Natsuki and her plight.

Besides some of these setbacks, Topless remains a strong film considering the subject matter. Surprisingly—considering the title itself— Topless is almost completely devoid of any nudity. Perhaps the film’s title is more emotionally investing when looked at more deeply. Metaphorically, the film’s title is seemingly more appropriate towards the actual characters themselves, each exposing themselves emotionally towards each other—in a sense becoming emotionally “topless” in order to discover who they truly are as individuals. This in itself elevates Topless far beyond what people might expect from reading the title alone, instead presenting an honest tale that tackles issues that are not too often explored within modern Japanese cinema—and does it in such a way that will certainly appeal to even the most opinionated of individuals.

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Author: Miguel Douglas

As an avid viewer of both Japanese animation and cinema for more than a decade now, Miguel is primarily concerned with establishing a critical look into both mediums as legitimate forms of artistic, cultural, and societal understanding. Never one to simply look at a film or series based solely on superficiality, Miguel has dedicated himself towards bringing awareness to Asian entertainment and its various facets.

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