“I tell myself there is no happy ending. All the pieces do not fit together perfectly. Things are ragged and messy. We are torn apart by events, put back together differently by others,” says Alexandra Daddario’s character, Margaret.
Director William Olsson’s Lost Girls and Love Hotels (2020) is adapted by Catherine Hanrahan from her 2008 novel of the same name. The story follows Margaret, an English pronunciation teacher at a school in Tokyo for air hostesses, who crosses paths with a member of the organized crime syndicate, Yakuza, named Kazu (Takehiro Hira). Their relationship is a tale of lust and love, but it’s destined to be short-lived as Kazu is engaged. He offers his American lover, haunted by her past, an intimate connection as she moves between love hotels (rooms available by the hour), and drinking at dive bars with her two European friends, Liam (Andrew Rothney) and Ines (Carice van Houten).
If the story is semi-autobiographical, based on Hanrahan’s experiences of living and working in Tokyo as an English teacher, then Lost Girls and Love Hotels pitches the auteur theory a curveball. The theory declares the director is author, but if, as Margaret says, “We are torn apart by events, put back together differently by others”, is Hanrahan the sole author of her experiences in Japan? If people are products of their experiences, she is a co-author of the events that shape her. Lost Girls and Love Hotels consists of layers of authorship that defies auteur cinema. It’s an act of sharing between Hanrahan, the filmmakers, the cast, and the viewers, and this is what makes it a rewarding experience.
(Still courtesy of ThinkJam)
A character and a story offer us not only escapism, but they can take us in the palm of their hands. They can place us at an emotional and psychological vantage point to view the landscape of our own lives. Even when the lead protagonist projects sadness, cinema is comforting. We find warmth or feeling of security in the sentiments and ideas expressed through the characters. They are a lighthouse beacon that allows us to feel that we are not entirely lost in the dark, nor fully consumed by an existential abyss.
While for some, Margaret’s words will be an alluring sad hymn, there will be those of us for whom her words suggest a kindred spirit, whose words contain wisdom. Life is for some a chore, a difficult process of stringing together one day after another. The wisdom of Margaret’s words, the comfort for those feeling lost, haunted by past events, or struggling with mental health, is that we cannot go back to who we once were. We have to move forward, leaving behind the corpse of the person we used to be.
Margaret is an example of how characters and stories not only give us a vantage point, but they mark our souls and our memories and have the potential to shape our minds. This idea of being ripped apart and put back together resonated with me in a deeply personal way, leaving me to think about how these encounters with characters in stories can mean as much as those we share with real people.
The value of an interaction is not measured by the time spent with a person. A brief encounter, a conversation while commuting to work, or a social event can make as much of an impression as our long-lasting friendships and romantic relationships. Should the character of Margaret fade from our memory, her words weight to keep her spirit alive, because, for some, she understands and expresses how they’re feeling. It’s not about finding answers, but sometimes having one’s pain acknowledged offers a cathartic experience.
Alexandra Daddario as Margaret (Still courtesy of ThinkJam)
Although Margaret doesn’t fully reveal herself, her character is difficult to forget. Kazu acknowledges that it’s difficult to make her happy, and all we know is that her family story is a sad one. It’s all we need to know, and it stays true to its character, who wanders impulsively around Tokyo.
At the heart of the film is the connection between its two leads, Margaret and Kazu. The pacing of the dialogue, their responses to one another, the exchange of glances, and their interactions have the feel of two distinct souls able to play in tune with one another, especially during their shared contemplations on distance and being alone. What’s intriguing is that we can view Kazu as a guardian angel, this figure that enters her life, without whom she may wander further astray. He subverts our first impression by revealing a warmth, compassion, and understanding that surprises us. Like Margaret, we learn something about Kazu, but the finer details are absent.
Lost Girls and Love Hotels is about grief, but not for the loss of someone. It’s the grief that’s attached to that feeling of being lost or depressed, that weighs us down in despair. Ideas, or rather thoughts, are complemented by abstract characters that allows us to experience the film as an observation of a woman lost in sadness, and whether she’ll pull herself out of her despair. Yet, there’s a depth to the film that’s interested in how we’re moulded, and why we think, feel and act the way we do.
This is reflective storytelling that frames both sex and alcohol as soothing mechanisms. It has an optimistic message that to be lost is not necessarily a permanent position, and even a lost soul can offer something to others. Lost Girls and Love Hotels also suggests the dual importance of compassion and understanding from others, and the internal strength to break the cycle of our pain.