I have seen many Japanese films that borrow heavily from American genre tropes. Whether it be the Japanese take on the American sex comedy or their versions of psychological thrillers. To be fair Americans borrow heavily from the Japanese as well, particularly in regards to horror films. However, prior to Frog Song I had never seen a Japanese indie film that borrowed from American practices so heavily. The film while short is a mixture of the depravity, absurdity and pure universal transcendence, as the main characters come to understand their own short and futile existences in relation to a much bigger, and ever continuing, dance of life. It affords all the leeway of a low budget film, fortunately for its viewers it happens to be good despite its simplistic nature. It sets out to tell a unique story and never once compromises this task.
Frog Song begins in the moment of a fracturing relationship, a young Akemi Kudo (Konatsu) returns from a rather physical fight with her boyfriend to discover that her lover has decided to hook up with a cosplay girl. Akemi leaves in a fit of rage to a local manga cafe where she meets Kyoko Ito (Rinako Hirasawa) a burgeoning Manga writer and full-time prostitute. Down on her luck, Akemi with the guidance of Kyoko becomes a part-time prostitute, using the job not as a means of income as much as an escape from her previously destitute situation. However, Kyoko sees Akemi as a triple hybrid between a coworker, roommate and lover, which makes their brief encounter convoluted, particularly when Kyoko sleeps with Akemi's ex, whilst demanding to be called Akemi during their moment of intimacy. Eventually, and inexplicably, the group makes up Akemi is shown as an older version of herself with two kids and no sight of her former lover. The film closes with Akemi, Kyoko and the films entire cast dancing to the Frog Song in a moment reminiscent of the existential closing of Ingmar Bergman's The Seventh Seal. It is obvious that the performance and actions of life are inescapable whether they be completely bizarre or tragically mundane.
Frog Song is undeniably existential. It shows the futility of humanity's attempts to rationalize the unknown. From the films visuals of frog suits to acts of sexual abuse involving shoes it serves as a reminder of the unconventional, arbitrary and erratic flow of human interactions. No character completely comes to grips with their place in society, whether it be Akemi who despite returning to her cheating lover still remains alone, or Kyoko who after giving up prostitution still acts as a performer in the films closing moments as she dons the frog suit. Each character fails to escape their various forms of personal malaise, choosing to remain in a safety net of certainty, as opposed to free falling into an unknown abyss. The dance of life, their personal frog songs, is the only commonality, making the films closing all the more brilliant and pertinent.
Frog Song is not a particularly mind-blowing film. It has moments of cinematic genius and some great dialogue off and on. I cannot recommend this movie, but would by no means deter the curious from viewing it.