CAAMFest 2015: 0.5MM by Ando Momoko

This strange and disturbing film is nonetheless a compelling 198 minutes of mysterious motivations and surprising outbursts. Sawa, a caregiver for geriatric patients, goes on the road after a traumatic experience with one of her elderly male clients. The opening sequence which documents this experience and sets the tone for her perambulations is a complete and perfect short film, long on the silences and rich in characterization. The film could have easily ended there. Unfortunately the subsequent sequences are not as powerful as the first, through director Ando Momoko slowly unravels the poignancy, danger, absurdity and brevity of life through Sawa’s caregiving relationships with several elderly men.

0.5 MM is about many things, including power and the power that Sawa wields mercilessly over her clients. She lures them with acts of cruelty but then gives them a life of tenderness and care; in one view she can be quite an abusive caregiver, working within a climate of fear and tenderness which her male patients find compelling. That they are compelled, in various degrees, by her youth and beauty only makes the living situations seamy and precarious. Her arbitrary use of power is painful to witness; despite the failings and sexism of her clients, you still root for them to as they hang on to their dignity. Conversely, the film could also be about a fight against sexism and reverse ageism in a culture where (elderly) men have the final say on all things professional and domestic. The filmmakers try to make the case that she plays the cruelty game because she has been forced to do so. However, I found it difficult to root for Sawa after the opening sequence; her inscrutability and capriciousness puts her at a distance.

Adapted from the novel by Ando Momoko.

05.MM, dir. Ando Momoko, 198 min., 2014. In Japanese. Now playing at the 2015 CAAMFest, San Francisco Bay Area.