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***1/2

Reviewed by: Val Kermode

In Japan, survivors of rape are often treated as outcasts and banished to the fringes of society. There is thought to be a huge under-reporting of rape cases. Nothing unusual there then. But this explains the film's title, where the director describes the woman as sleeping in her own cocoon, waiting for release.

In a pre-title sequence, we see 15 year-old Kotono returning from her ballet class, being forced into a parked car and raped. The briefly filmed attack is balanced by a scene of the sobbing, bleeding aftermath.

17 years on, Kotono, her disabled father Kai and her daughter Natsume are living in the back of a van under a railway bridge, eking out a living by fishing in the river, saving what they can to pay a detective they have hired to track down the rapist, Natsume's father.

Kotono's main income is earned as a masseuse and sex worker in a city hotel. Her daughter accompanies her to work and it is clearly just a matter of time before she suffers the same fate as her mother.

Meanwhile we follow the details of this family's daily struggle, as they prepare and eat their small meals outdoors, sometimes under a flapping tarpaulin, sometimes by torchlight. Kai is incontinent and has to be cleaned and changed in the van. Most impressive is Natsume's effort to carry her father on her back up hotel stairs to give him a bath. These grim details are filmed documentary style and we feel every breath as Natsume climbs the stairs. When the rapist is eventually found, he is not at all what they expected. Natsume has to come to terms with the reality that this is her father. The search has held the family together, and now things begin to fall apart.

There is a poignant contrast between the life which this small family has been reduced to and the life of Kotono's attacker. When the family make a visit to their old home, it is clear that they were once just ordinary middle class people. But in some ways their social isolation has strengthened them. Their mutual care and tenderness make room for hope. A happy ending would have been false, but there is an awakening.

Sakaguchi is writer, director and cinematographer. He draws raw and unflinching performances from his actors. His outdoor locations could be the ugly concrete spaces of any big city, and the unglamourised style makes this a powerful and memorable film.

Reviewed on: 18 Feb 2012
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A girl was raped at 15, and gave birth to her daughter. 17 years later, mother, daughter, and grandfather live a meagre life together in their van.
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Director: Katsumi Sakaguchi

Writer: Katsumi Sakaguchi

Starring: Mariko Hirano, Aimi Kobayashi, Miyuki Komagata

Year: 2011

Runtime: 96 minutes

Country: Japan


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