Yu Aoi's latest film features her most despicable role ever.
"Kanojo ga Sonona o Shiranai Toritachi" (Birds Without Names) is a thrilling tale of love and hate surrounding one woman. Directed by Kazuya Shiraishi, the film is an adaptation of the bestselling novel of the same name by Mahokaru Numata.
"Of all the stories about love I’ve known, I’ve never ever experienced a shock like this," said Aoi, who portrays the protagonist, Towako.
Towako lives with Jinji (played by Sadawo Abe) and is completely dependent on his income. Jinji is generous but crude, and Towako doesn’t hide her disgust for him. She lives aimlessly, still carrying a torch for her former boyfriend, an ambitious man named Kurosaki (Yutaka Takenouchi). It doesn’t end there: She also starts having an affair with Mizushima (Tori Matsuzaka), a man she met by chance.
"All the characters completely lack common sense," Aoi said. "For example, Towako does everything other women would think is a bad idea. Women may feel frightened watching her because they know that."
At first, the heroine appears to be suffering from a personality disorder. But Aoi said her character behaves the way she does "because she’s under Kurosaki’s control."
"Toward Jinji, Towako thinks, 'I’m the perfect match for Kurosaki, not you,’" the actress said. "She becomes fascinated by Mizushima because he has something in common with Kurosaki."
Aoi made her screen debut in 2001 and won several awards for her role in "Hula Girls" (2006), including the Japan Academy Film Prize for best supporting actress. She also regularly appears in films by respected director Yoji Yamada.
In her latest film, the actress skillfully portrays the various sides of Towako — from a purring cat-like personality to a mysterious mistress to a hardened wife-like character who hurls abusive words in a harsh Osaka dialect.
However, Aoi does not appear to have been under pressure while playing such a complex character.
"I thought I could change if I adapted my acting to the actor opposite me in each scene, so I didn’t do much planning," she said.
However, Aoi worked particularly hard to convey the magnetism of the original novel — something she described as "a fascination with something that seems disgusting but doesn’t allow you to stop reading it."
"I’ve played a disgusting woman who appeared only briefly," the actress said. "However, this is the first time I’ve portrayed a character that is so utterly despicable throughout the film. I felt like the more I played her, the more mental damage I would take on."
In the second half, the film takes on the air of a mystery, unraveling a past incident involving Towako.
"I can’t disclose the ending, so it’s difficult to say," Aoi said. "However, this is a love story in the end."
The film comes with a surprise ending.
"During the shoot, we chatted about what would happen in five or 10 years [after the story]," she said. "I hope moviegoers have such a conversation, too, after watching it."
The film undoubtedly has given Aoi a challenging role that can help her expand her acting repertoire.
"[The role] helped me find my weak points and the things I have to work on," she said. "I’m not sure if this is a story everyone will like, but I hope it’ll deeply affect some people."
The film, in Japanese, is showing at Shinjuku Wald 9 and other cinemas. Please visit kanotori.com for more information.