Adapted from its director’s own novel, Junko Emoto’s The Extremists’ Opera is often at its best when its roving handheld camera has the good sense to stop and observe. A theatre director making her film debut, Emoto’s interest in watching her actors navigate the spaces she creates for them provides both the film’s most playful and most emotionally taxing moments. In the opening scene, two women engage in oral sex while rolling on the floor, the camera subtly pulling back to emphasize their movement within the empty room.
Later, and repeatedly, characters are positioned at opposite ends of a still frame, separated by the vertical beams of their home or rehearsal space, until one of them moves to either close the distance or make it permanent. The film’s narrative, in which the manipulative, womanizing director of an all-women theatre troupe falls for her lead actress but ruins that relationship and jeopardizes her career by falling for other women, is largely familiar. But as it is totally disinterested in attaining a facile sense of closure and guided by the assured hand of its director, the film’s keen emotional intelligence is always apparent.
Published as part of Japan Cuts 2017.