Movies about sex workers tend to fall into very limited categories. There are the “hooker with a heart of gold” stories, thrillers involving some sort of con, and comedies that usually deal with mistaken identity. The movies that are willing to deal with more serious topics still ending up being overly dramatic. Screening at the Fantasia Film Festival, Life: Untitled takes a much more human approach.
Kano has recently begun working at an office of an escort service. She quickly comes to dislike the job, but stays on anyway. As she comes to learn more about her co workers, her work becomes more bearable. It is not an ideal situation, but Kano comes to learn more about life. Life: Untitled explores the sex work trade, modern misogyny, and ideas of self-discovery.
The movie has a number of characters. (A strong argument can be made that there are too many.) When there is a large cast, it is easy to turn people into caricatures. There is the “nice” one, the “mean” one, the “jaded” one, and so on. This is never the case in Kana Yamada’s movie. None of the characters fit in a mold which makes the overall story flow more smoothly.
This is probably due to the fact Yamada has adapted the movie from her own play. Not only are the characters well rounded, Yamada has a familiarity with them. This further ensures none of them are shallow. While there are some that are not as fully explored as others, Life: Untitled is never dull. It is filled with characters that will at least pique the interest of audiences.
The camerawork is also very impressive. Though the characters in the story work in the sex trade, there is very little nudity. (When there is nudity, it is limited to the male members of the movie.) Instead, the focus is on the lives involved. Much like HBO’s The Deuce, Life: Untitled is more concerned with telling a story than it is with titillating its audience.
This makes the plot very important. There is no lure of sex to keep audiences watching. The work is just a backdrop for what Kano and co-workers are going through. This is where Life: Untitled truly excels. There is the inherent misogyny that ladies in the sex profession are treated with. More importantly, it deals with people trying to figure out their lives. It is a relatable concept.
Life: Untitled is a beautiful movie that many people will understand despite its salacious setting. The movie tries to take a forward looking view at the sex trade in Japan. For the most part, it succeeds in telling a modern tale involving women in a once forbidden profession. Though it has its flaws, Kana Yamada puts out a very strong effort in her directorial debut.