2.0 out of 5 stars bad girls vs good girls

There is something really pretentious about a first-time director declining to use the traditional “Directed by” credit in favor of something cooler. Spike Lee got away with it, with his infamous “A Spike Lee Joint.” But you had better have the talent of Spike Lee to go along with the ego, or else you come off looking like a fool. Unfortunately, that is exactly what happens with “Divide,” a film that opens with the credit “A Masato Tsujioka World.”

Masato Tsujioka’s career has almost entirely been as a side actor in Japanese horror flicks. Some of these have been grindhouse exploitation, like Ishii Teruo’s Blind Beast vs. Killer Dwarf and Japanese Hell. Some of these have been a bit more arty, like Sono Sion’s Suicide Club and Tsukamoto Shinya’s A Snake of June and Vital. Apparently, Masato thinks he has picked up enough tricks in front of the camera to be able to confidently step behind it.

“Divide” shows clearly that this is not so. Masato’s first and so-far only film, it is amateurish and gaudy, full of “cool” scenes and little story-telling, and shot on digital video with actors who have “Divide” as their only film credit. Full props to the cast for giving it a shot, but the dialog is stilted and clumsy and the final product is far and away from the quality one expects in a feature film.

The story is a familiar set up, the kind found in any number of better films like Kamikaze Girls. One the one side, we have the “bad girls” who pledge to use their youth and bodies to control old men and gain power through prostitution. They actually repeat a kind of creed, “Seduce Fools. We use our bodies to socially control wealthy men.” One the other side, there are the “good girls” who keep their legs crossed, their uniforms neat and study hard for a promising future. Of course, one of the “bad girls,” Yuki (Yoshikawa Ayano), used to be a “good girl,” and one of the “good girls,” Saki (Kuranuki Mariko), feels lured to the dark side.

This alone does not a story make, and so a few more things go into the mix. Saki admires an editor at a popular girl’s magazine, who does his best through his columns to help troubled girls stay away from drugs and prostitution. Yuki is controlled by a sexy and charismatic pimp, and is the real mastermind behind the drugs and girl gangs. Saki is searching for her little sister, who was abandoned by their mother when she was a little girl. Could all of these things be connected somehow? Hmmmm….

I am probably being a little hard on “Divide.” For all of its amateurish nature, there are far worse films out there. Masato does know how to whip up some cool visuals, and anyone interested in the Tokyo punk scene will like how the “bad girl” group dresses. Any amateur film makers out there would probably enjoy seeing “Divide,” and how Masato creates images from a shoestring budget. The DVD even has a “Making of” feature so you can take a peek behind the scenes. However, this extra feature is only partially subtitled, so you have to be able to speak Japanese to make any sense of it!

But there is a lot that needs to be overlooked to enjoy it. The pimp character seems to be directly borrowed from “Suicide Club,” and is far too goofy for my tastes. There is so much overacting here that it would play better as a parody than a straight film. And worse of all, for all their “prostitution is power” chanting that the bad girls do, there is not a single hint of sex or nudity in the film, not so much as a bra strap. This is all the more surprising when you realize that both the stars of the film, Yoshikawa Ayano and Kuranuki Mariko, as well as many of the supporting actresses, are best known in their native Japan as bikini-models and “idols.” But unlike their “other” DVDs, here the clothes stay firmly on.


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