Part of the JFFH (Japan Film Fest Hamburg) 2021 line-up, Kenya Okuba’s Cosmetic DNA was a title that instantly caught my attention with the flashy trailer promising a techno-laden, neon-drenched tale of bloody vengeance. However, you can only tease so much in a quick-cut trailer for a two-hour-long film, so I went in with high hopes but uncertain of what I would find. Was it worth it, and what is the trick to eternal beauty? Let’s find out!
What Is It About?
“Ayaka, a beauty college student who loves makeup, is sexually assaulted by a self-proclaimed movie director, Kunijima, who she met at a club one day. Ayaka is mentally ill because she has to cry and fall asleep, but she gradually regains her ego by meeting Satomi, a graduate student, and Yumi, an apparel clerk. However, when Ayaka learns that Kunijima’s next target is Yumi, she suddenly kills Kunijima, and while processing the corpse, she realizes that human blood is the ideal cosmetic ingredient.”
Expressing itself through DIY punk aesthetic, Cosmetic DNA blends the hyperrealism of a commercially obsessed culture with the grittiness of the most beloved trash cinema. Mashing together two polar opposites, Kenya Okuba manages to create a deadly concoction of trash and flash that makes them a name to watch.
Capturing a dizzy indulgence of all things shiny and expensive, the most joyous moments of the film is hidden in vignettes of pop-culture consumerism. Flooding the screen with simple studio effects, overly expressive happiness and shopping sprees, all scored by an upbeat electronic score, serve the impression of cosmetic commercials drowned in excess – containing all the video quality of an advertisement for the local mall. Perfectly framing the trio’s obsession, it makes the shifts into gritty violence and drug abuse a shockingly dark twist. Furthermore, both these styles come together for a neon-soaked killing spree that is the perfect culmination of everything that preceded it.
Ayaka, Satomi and Yumi are the perfect trio to push the film. Each being charismatic through their own quirks, the interaction of these three provides the story with a sense of realism (necessary to embrace the chaos throughout). Overall, the actors convey an utter love of being involved in the production – seemed like a blast to make and the performances reflect that.
Cosmetic DNA is one of those films that is best served by experiencing for yourself, there are so many great moments of drama, absurdity, horror, comedy, and cool. This review could have easily just rested in nerding out over certain sequences, whether it is the first kill and realization of blood being the best cosmetic or the long science montage where rat soup is used to make pills that can produce babies. At around 2 hours, the glitzy and glamourous feature never drags or disappoints.
What Did Not Work?
There is nothing within Cosmetic DNA that ‘does not work’. However, that does not mean it is a perfect film. The work is sensational and devoid of much deeper context. In addition, the only message that can be taken away from the work could be “men are awful”. Not coming from a place of being offended by such sentiments, this message is certain to keep it being a perfect film for the majority of viewers (myself included) and may ostracize those that are overtly sensitive.
Where Can I Watch It?
Viewings of Cosmetic DNA will be available online during JFFH. Available from August 18th to September 1st, tickets are available via their website.
Cosmetic DNA is a true stand-out from the Japanese underground, a tale of fashionable androcide that keeps an upbeat pace for the full two-hour run-time. A techno-laced neon fever dream, the production appealed to my love of trash cinema and overindulgent atmospheric pieces. Simply put, it was glorious and I ate up every moment of it.
Don’t miss out on a chance to check this one out, Okuba may prove to be the next big name to come out of Japan!
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