Review: 0.5 mm (Ando, 2014) – CAAMFest 2015

Still from the movie 0.5 mm

As I mentioned in my CAAMFest preview, 0.5 mm was my favorite film of the festival. Momoko Ando‘s second feature film stars her younger sister Sakura as Sawa, the plucky heroine of a strange odyssey into the land of ailing and abandoned old men. For years Sawa has provided cheerful and competent care to the elderly, but her fortunes change one day when her client’s daughter makes a delicate request: that Sawa fulfill her father’s dying wish to once again sleep beside a young woman. Sawa hesitantly agrees, but the night ends in such shameful disaster that Sawa is fired and kicked out of her boarding house. When she accidentally leaves her entire life savings on a departing subway car, our desperate heroine turns to blackmail for survival. Specifically, she catches old men in shameful acts and forces them to let her live with and care for them.

Momoko Ando, who also wrote the film’s screenplay, renders her characters with empathy and reserve, withholding judgment as does Sawa herself (her encounter with a yakuza thug the brief exception). That is the miracle of this movie–that it peels back our initial disgust and asks us to consider a messier humanity wherein easy labels are traded in for second glances. None of Sawa’s victims are likable, until, suddenly, they are. Sawa with her (literally) arm-twisting tactics is not blameless, either, but she is impossible not to admire. Neither is she a feminist crusader, however, out to avenge her gender against the lasciviousness of old men whose desires have been protected their entire lives by a patriarchal society. Instead she manages their prurience with bemusement, sometimes toying with them, sometimes, surprisingly, complying. The moral puritanism she pretends in order to get her foot in their door is just that–a mask; once in, she is shockingly, gratifyingly independent-minded.

The cast all deliver natural, subtle performances, which is necessary as much is conveyed in this movie by manner, look, or expression. Sakura Ando, of course, is superb, but so are Toshio Sakata and Masahiko Tsugawa, who play two of Sawa’s unwilling “patients.”

Perhaps 0.5 mm‘s only flaws are its length and its ending. Some viewers might complain that the film, clocking in at over three hours, drags in parts; I didn’t notice it much as I watched it in snippets snatched here and there, but I would guess that any slow-moving picture of that duration would frustrate most modern audiences. My cavil with the ending is minor: its revelations are a bit obscured by the manner in which they are displayed–a series of cryptic flashbacks that left me with more questions than answers.

But if you can stand those trivial drawbacks, 0.5 mm is an unexpectedly pleasant, rewarding watch.