Monday, June 9, 2008

Owner of a Lonely Heart

Author(s): Jeffrey
Location: NY

"Owner of a Lonely Heart"

Directed by Takeshi Kitano
Written by Masayuki Suo

Main Cast

Suzuka Ohgo as Young Megumi Yokota
Do-Yeon Jeon as Older Megumi Yokota
Sung-ki Ahn as Sin Gwang-su
Min-sik Choi as Kim Young-nam

Tagline: "Taken from a life she never knew. Staying in the hearts of those who could never forget her"

Synopsis: Megumi Yokota was a normal teenager in 1970s Japan, a girl with friends, family, crushes, and teenage angst. Her life in Niigata seemed to be going just fine.

It wasn't until October 15th, 1977 that everything changed. Sin Gwang-su was a spy from North Korea who had gone through the process of stealing identities to blend in with the Japanese population. When Megumi witnessed one of Sin's suspicious spy transactions with a fellow colleague, he abducted her and snuck her into North Korea.

One day later. When Megumi awakens from a passed out state in a cold, empty room, she watches two North Korean officials rummaging through the corpse of a dead Japanese man for his identification. Impulsively, Megumi begins to cry, alerting the officials of her presence. They induct her into an elite North Korean training school for Japanese hostages.

Throughout the course of many years, Megumi picks up bits of Korean and eventually is deemed competent enough to conduct informational classes to North Korean spies (on the language and culture of Japan). To spare her life, she unwillingly educates not only a plethora of antagonizing spies, but also her intimidating captor: Sin Gwang-su.

Meanwhile in a bustling Tokyo: there is a media frenzy about a spring of kidnappings by North Korean spies. Megumi is speculated as one of the citizens abducted over three years prior to the announcement. Japan becomes so attached to the case of young Megumi that songs, films, and even manga become dedicated to her.

As Megumi matures throughout her teaching career, and several years spent in foreign territory pass, she begins to fall in love with a South Korean abductee named Kim Young-nam. Although Kim is one of the few things in North Korea that can make Megumi feel at ease, she cannot fight off her severe depression that she has been battling ever since her arrival in the hostile nation. She repeatedly attempts suicide even once she becomes pregnant with Kim's baby. She gives birth to a daughter in 1987.

1994. One night, after she prepares a meal, Megumi whispers her feelings in Kim's ear and has her worst mental breakdown ever. He tries to console her, but there is too much for her weakened and neglected heart to withstand. She picks a gun up off the counter (normally used for protection against rebels), and she slowly walks into her room. Kim begs her to come to him, but she locks herself inside with the gun. Kim slumps down beside the door, trying to coax her to into coming out. The screen fades to black.

What the Press would say:

A new artistic venture by acclaimed Japanese filmmaker Takeshi Kitano has captured the hearts of critics globally: "Owner of a Lonely Heart", which takes its name from the hit Yes song. It tells the emotional true story of one of sixteen (confirmed) captured Japanese citizens by North Korean spies, and her internal struggle while away from the support system of family and the love a teenager needs to keep them motivated about life. The main character, Megumi Yokota, is deprived of her support system at the crucial age of thirteen, and is faced with even more turmoil due to being forced by a foreign government to train spies to infiltrate her home country.

There are essentially two sagas of "Lonely Heart", the Japanese Megumi and the Korean Megumi portions. In a stylish, unique approach to filmmaking, Takeshi Kitano and screenwriter Masayuki Suo (writer of hit Japanese film Shall We Dance) casted Japanese Suzuka Ohgo to play the part of the younger persona of the main character, and then proceeded to cast a Korean woman to play the older Megumi. This nationality switcheroo is a smart and effective way to visually, and even verbally, portray Megumi's change throughout the film. Her acculturation into Korean society is symoblized by her, in essence, change into a Korean woman.

Suzuka Ohgo has a striking innocence to her whenever she tackles on a new role (her performance in Memoirs of a Geisha was lauded by several critics). The audience is moved by her loneliness, and her struggle to juggle life and betrayal. Ohgo's acting is strikingly subtle in its execution. There can be no doubt in anyone's mind that, being performed by Suzuka Ohgo, Megumi Yokota truly is a simple Japanese teenager turned into a distraught, rapidly maturing young woman.

Do-Yeon Jeon's approach to the diffused Japanese girl is similar, but still unique. Her subtleness is now faced more with angst than with innocence. Jeon, who first gained world-wide attention for winning Best Actress at Cannes for "Secret Sunshine", doesn't disappoint in Kitano's masterpiece. She slowly progresses through her state of depression and mental illness with such realism that I, myself, thought she may have truly experienced such a state in her real life. Do-yeon Jeon is a contender this year for Best Actress at the Oscars, and will be a lock if she can fight off the foreign language hurdle.

Starring beside the Asian knock-out duo is Min-sik Choi, who movie buffs will know as the star from Oldboy. Although not quite as tortured and troubled in "Owner of a Lonely Heart", he still packs an emotional punch as the sole support system for the character of Megumi. The character of Kim Young-nam is essential to the story for his sense of humanity in Megumi's barren abyss.

Sung-ki Ahn is also worth mentioning as the most focused-on antagonist of the film. Anh's character Sin Gawng-su is not only the captor of Megumi, but also of her freedom, and a part of the nation of Japan. Anh gives a memorable and awe-inspiring villainous portrayal.

The ending of the film is what stands out to most people. The controversy over Megumi's suicide is a great one in Japan: there are many who argue, in spite of her husband's report, that Megumi is still alive and that North Korea is hiding her. Kitano makes a smart move in leaving ambiguity with her death. As the scene fades to black, no gunshots are heard, only the softness of Kim's voice. Scenes in Japan are also quite poignant, briefly but frequently showing the hassle and togetherness that the nation utilisizes to help the ill-fated plan to bring Megumi and other captives back.

The rest of the film is filled with subtle, enchanting details that show the delicate care that went into making the film. Hip Japanese music slowly transforms into more depressing, Korean music. Camera focus becomes borderline unbearable at some points to demonstrate Megumi's own feeling of confusion and even self-hate. "Owner of a Lonely Heart" is a film that one is not likely to forget, and one that everyone is sure to value for its emotional and honest depiction of a girl's deprived life.

For Your Consideration:

Best Picture
Best Director
Best Actress - Do-yeon Jeon
Best Supporting Actress - Suzuka Ohgo
Best Supporting Actor - Min-sik Choi
Best Supporting Actor - Sung-ki Ahn
Best Original Screenplay - Masayuki Suo

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