Thus far Kei Fujiwara has only made two films in her lifetime. Organ, an outgrowth of her work with Shinya Tsukamoto on Tetsuo: The Iron Man, melded Cronenberg body horror with grimy underworld intrigue and messy family tragedy. Not easy to watch, but a remarkable indie project in a country hostile to such filmmaking, and in the end it had a power I couldn't dismiss. I wish I had better things to say about the follow-up, ID (a/k/a Idō), which also seethes with ambition and makes the improvised most of a tiny budget, but is mostly just grimy and messy.
A stranger in the town of the pig killers
It's not immediately apparent ID is a sequel to Organ. As with Organ before it, a lot of what matters in the film is doled out (maybe "secreted" is a better word) over time. It involves two of the key characters from the previous movie — the ex-detective Numata, and the organ-legger Saeki. The two of them meet again, years after their original clash, in a grotty little shantytown that's sprung up around a pig-slaughtering farm. Saeki, wandering about in an apparently amnesiac state, wanders into the town and collapses, where the locals revive him. He ends up living there, sleeping in the workers' dorm and helping out around the place. Numata, also numb from the horror of his previous experiences, is roused out of his lethargy when he gets word of strange goings-on at the farm.
"Strange" is the nicest word for what's going on there. The place is a cesspool of frustrated sexual desire and self-hate. The wife of one of the workers (Fujiwara) is aghast by what she's come to, appalled at the way living beings are brought into this world simply to be turned into meat and never even given the chance of salvation. One night there's an argument that escalates into a bloody struggle, and she turns on her husband and beats him to death. That's only the beginning of everyone's suffering, as she gradually mutates into a monster that fuses both her and Saeki into one giant, shambling beast.
This is all related a good deal less coherently than such a summary would let on. I was half-prepared for that — Organ isn't the easiest film to follow either — but ID goes further. Some of that's by way of Fujiwara's here-and-there directorial style, but also by way of things like an intentionally theatrical framing device where three weird little men appear to be following the story by way of a book they've discovered (which they keep losing, dropping in the water, etc.).
Mood over meaning
For some films, the movement of the plot is less important than the state of mind generated by the film as a whole. No doubt ID — again, like Organ before it — cares more about mood and flavor than story. But mood and flavor spring from story, and because the film seems to work actively against being easy to follow, a lot of its potential impact becomes muted. Or maybe better to say malformed: it turns mostly into individual moments of shock, each separately effective but not cumulative as they ought to be. By the time Fujiwara's character turns into a flesh-beast version of the monstrosity at the end of Tetsuo, it feels less like the culmination of the movie's ideas than an expression of how it ran out of ideas and groped for this as a climax.
I'm kinder to projects like this than I am to more mainstream ones, if only because I have some firsthand inkling of how difficult it is to make any movie at all. Japan's indie filmmaking scene is tiny and exists in spite of everything around it, and so any project that emerges from it, I try to take seriously. Organ told me Fujiwara had ambition and vision, and was worth keeping an eye on, even if she wasn't likely to turn out much in her lifetime. But ID's ambitions and visions come at the cost of a great many other things about it.