Several features in, Adam Sherman’s latest, She’s Just A Shadow, falls right in the category of guilty pleasure cinematic ventures if wanderlust, coupled with the allure of Asian nightlife, topped with copious amounts of sex, violence and kink is your thing.
That’s literally what you get in She’s Just A Shadow – fronted by an English-speaking cast of mostly Asian actors and actresses with Tokyo serving as Sherman’s backdrop of choice. The wild and crazy fervor of clubhopping, girl-on-girl orgies instantly tops the more cerebral developments in Sherman’s densely-colored, neon-lit tale of a Madame, and the intertwining drama surrounding her crime family, her closest friends, and her girls.
A serial killer is on the loose, tying women naked to the train tracks in one way or another, violating them and live-streaming their murders one by one. It’s not too long before killer’s movements suddenly arrive to close to home for Irene (Tao Okamoto), a Tokyo Madame, adding to the already surrounding woes of being the heiress to a crime family beleagured by its own demons, as she’s also faced with mitigating the rivalry between her outfit, and that of Blue Sky.
The rivalry is partly stoked by Irene’s boyfriend, a hitman named Red Hot (Kentez Asaka) who lays waste to another gangster before stealing his briefcase. His best friend, Gaven (Kihiro), is faced with one existential crisis after another whilst dating two prostitutes, Tanya (Haruka Abe) and Beth (Mercedes Maxwell), both who want his exclusive affection. The gang’s stand-out muscle, Knock Out (Marcus Johnson), relishes his membership despite his only gripe being his witting lack of empathy for a homeless, wheelchair-bound young boy that camps along his route to score some yen.
Irene’s crew and her girls all live life in the moment. Everyday is a party, and for that matter, every night. Hedonism runs amuck as clothes are universally optional next to conducting their street business in their Harajuku-style sense of fashion and bedazzled, made-up looks. The most blaring fact of all is that for most of the film, there isn’t a single moment where these characters aren’t either coked-up or drunk. Or both – so much so that it gets dexterous observing the dialogue with a sizeable measure of seriousness and gravitas… Only some, really.
Breaking Glass Pictures
She’s Just A Shadow aims at being something more artful with its composition and presentation. The title itself is exhibited at least once or twice with much of the narrative focus on the girls and their trevails as illegal sex workers; There’s at least in mind that nod at some extensive nod to the title, but analyzing this runs the risk of focusing heavily on the logic of people who get so high and drunk that they can barely hold up their own body weight.
Irene’s relationship with Red Hot is a toxic one – one where the only shorthand cure to his impotency apparently ties to his jealousy about her shared childhood past with rival gangster, Blue Sky. All this stands next to the mystique of Irene’s own family where a supposedly “secret” recipe to a killer dinner weighs heavily on the back of her mind as it could mean the fate of her business, and her family.
With Adam Sherman, you get to take a bold trip into a genre that traverses Tokyo’s streets, emboldened by a cast and crew that evidently found value in helping bring a story such as She’s Just A Shadow to life. With the script, however, if you find yourself relaxing your brain and tapering off into the vast, luminous visuals and glitter-laden skin lensed throughout, you’d be forgiven.
The film’s only action scene takes place in its early minutes with Gaven and Red Hot on hand, diving right into a festival of broken glass, drunken rage, vandalism and perpetual blood splatter. It could have easily been a Miike or a Sono film, but it’s not (thankfully). Hell, given the right treatment, this film easily has many of the components for a proper Kim Jee-Woon film. But, it’s not (thankfully).
The real query here, for you, the viewer, will be to decide if this is okay. She’s Just A Shadow is as bold as one might expect it to be, as it was filmed in a city whose film industry is less than tolerable when it comes to controversial film elements like fulsome nudity, sex and drugs.
That kind of subversive direction can only be found in the craft exhibited in the work of directors like Sherman, who feasibly balances all the key arcs in the process; She’s Just A Shadow bares no allusions as to who and where its characters, or their motivations. Theirs is a truly foreboding narrative immersed in a salacious, grimey and bloody world, and for what it’s worth, most of these characters are hardly redeemable by the end.
This factor does manage to draw some sense in observing Irene’s tale as one of survival in a life that has proven the extent of its cruelty; Her own redemption is cosigned by a stagnant reliance on the very world that a few of her cohorts often muse about leaving.
Other potential points notwithstanding, that’s about as far as the film might allow with a line-up of characters that live life burning the candle on both ends. Introspective thought and reflection, and even basic common sense tend to fall casualty to the decadence and spacious dilapidation of Sherman’s illustrious, trippy crime noir that is She’s Just A Shadow, and in ways that may have you trying to find the light instead.