Videophobia is a 2019 Japanese thriller that focuses on the paranoia and damaging implications of a digital identity in our modern surveillance state. When Ai (Tomona Hirota) discovers a sex tape of herself was unknowingly uploaded she begins to question her identity while watched by the digital eyes in public life. Director Daisuke Miyazaki’s eerie film is a character study in consent and the pitfalls of life in the digital age. The Blu-ray from Kani Releasing and Vinegar Syndrome provides an excellent A/V package paired with enough bonus features for fans of the film. Recommended.
“There’s no proof that the person is you, right?”
Looking back on the 80s, too many American films portrayed teens as only jocks or nerds. Their conflicts were popularity contests, romantic conquests, and proper toga party attire. Defining the conflicts of today’s “digital” generations requires more subtlety and focus. I recently reviewed the meta-slasher Tragedy Girls which follows two serial killers who leverage their online identities with real-life body counts to gain popularity. The other side of that coin is Daisuke Miyazaki’s paranoid thriller Videophobia. Instead of manipulating digital tools for an advantage, our character here gets caught up in the malaise of constant digital surveillance and identity to devastating results. Whether you’re out for blood or existential closure the key to maintaining an always online identity is the humanity left when you put down the screen.
Ai (Tomona Hirota) is a disconnected Korean-Japanese woman living in Osaka with her sisters and aunts. She works at a talent agency as a costumed character roaming the streets and taking selfies with teenagers. After an acting class, she hits up a tiny club where she meets a random stranger who takes her back to his place. Ai is impressed with him, she has a drink and succumbs to his romantic advances. While having sex she spies a video camera on a shelf pointed at her. No stranger to performing for a camera, Ai looks away and engages in some rather mechanical lovemaking. The next night she opens her laptop to check out some adult video sites and finds a video called “Job 1” which shows her and the stranger having sex. Ai searches the site again to see more videos. “Job 1” is now accompanied by Job 2 and 3. She runs over to his apartment only to find a group of Americans. “Airbnb!” they say to her.
While a techno-thriller on the surface ultimately Videophobia is a character study focusing on our relationship with digital representation and identity. When Ai speaks to the police about the video their response signifies the gray-area implications of a digital presence. Like her unidentified video persona, Ai exists in a state of limbo due to her Korean ancestry as a Japanese citizen. This element of the film is subtle and at times difficult to discern but for those who are aware of the cultural taboos of Japanese society the film tackles it earnestly.
The performance from Tomona Hirota as Ai is layered and arresting. She conveys so much of the pain and paranoia through her character’s eyes and weary physicality. Don’t look away or you’ll miss it! Where Videophobia excels is in telling this gripping story and allowing the moody minimalist aesthetic to give us a compelling story. It takes some patience to appreciate what director Daisuke Miyazaki is presenting but once you dive in you’ll be hooked.
Vital Disc Stats: The Blu-ray
Videophobia arrives on Blu-ray thanks to Kani Releasing and Vinegar Syndrome. The Region A disc is housed in a transparent keepcase with an insert booklet featuring an interview with Daisuke Miyazaki and photos from the production. If you order from Vinegar Syndrome you also pick up an exclusive slipcover. Loading the disc offers the Kani logo before landing on the static Main Menu screen with typical navigation options.
The AVC encoded disc for Videophobia presents the stark feature in the film’s original 1.85:1 aspect ratio in 1080p. The HD image for the thriller is full of detail while retaining occasional softness for artistic expression. While contrast levels appear solid some exterior shots are a bit overexposed. Black levels are strong with added depth to the image. Fine detail within facial features and costuming allow a multitude of textures to appear in medium and closeup shots. Sharpness wavers at times, but depth and clarity are never in question. Ultimately what we’re given is a dream-like presentation that is constantly forced back into the harsh realities of modern day Oaska.
Supplied on the disc is a minimal yet confident DTS-HD MA 2.0 audio track. Deep LFE thumps add tension to the techno scoring elements and the riotous title track. Dialogue exchanges are clear and clean without hiss or pop detected. This mix is well balanced offering a pleasing experience for the paranoid thriller.
The disc offers a glance into the world of Videophobia and its director Daisuke Miyazaki with surprising results. A commentary track would’ve been excellent but the excellent short film and the insane music video make up for its absence.
Videophobia tackles a sadly common digital age problem with stunning realism and heightened paranoia. While cultural elements may seem subtle and out of reach for some, the character study and examination of the duality of a person’s digital identity is where the film truly shines.
Minimal and filled with stark imagery, Videophobia rarely stumbles in revealing the struggles of someone wrestling with the duality of existence. The Blu-ray from Kani Releasing and Vinegar Syndrome offers a solid A/V package with minimal special features. Recommended.