Body Drop Asphalt

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Junko Wada’s Body Drop Asphalt (2000) is an irreverent post-modernist comedy about identity and creativity. Shot on DV tape, Body Drop Asphalt embraces the kinetic camera movements and manic style of Hideaki Anno. Like Anno’s Love & Pop (1998), Body Drop Asphalt is a coming of age character study of a young woman.

Wada utilizes the look and texture of DV tape to maximum effect. The light blue hues that come with DV and the shallow depth of field add to the feelings of isolation and claustrophobia that form the subtext of the film. Likewise, DV is inherently conducive to supporting the MTV-styled visual effects that populate Body Drop Asphalt. This enables the more fantastic elements of the film to feel organic when juxtaposed to those moments that are more traditionally dramatic.

Body Drop Asphalt opens as a montage of Eri (Sayuri Oyamada) going about her typical day. Over these images of the commonplace Eri’s voice-over is heard. Eri’s interiority is the focus of this prolonged sequence in which she interrogates herself as to her purpose and identity while going about her day. This choice is not dissimilar to the character portraits of musician Jenny Hval, novelist Sally Rooney or filmmaker Lynne Ramsay. The self-reflection afforded by Eri’s ennui is as illuminating to the viewer as it is motivating for the character herself.

Lonely, depressed and directionless, Eri begins to write a novel, “Soft Cream Love”, as a means of fulfilling her fantasies and ambitions about herself. From the moment Eri sits down at her laptop to hammer out her fiction, Wada’s style shifts. Suddenly a veritable cavalcade of images streams across the screen, telling a compressed version of Eri’s novel. Here cheesy video transitions and graphics litter the frame of images common to any romantic comedy. Eri’s fictional counterpart Rie (Makoto Ogi) is everything she is not. But in creating Rie Eri herself is transformed.

Body Drop Asphalt shifts tone and style again as Wada moves the narrative ahead in time to a party Eri is hosting to celebrate the success of her novel. Suddenly the film becomes a broad romantic comedy as Eri goes looking for love in all of the wrong places. That all changes for Eri when she meets Maruyama (Machu Mansyu) on the street. However, when Maruyama fails to show up for his date with Eri after he’s struck dead by a car, Eri spirals into depression.

The lightness of the comedy shifts again towards a quiet introspection as a depressed Eri attempts to write her follow-up novel. Her voice-over in this montage has changed though. Earlier in Body Drop Asphalt Eri wished that people did not exist, but now she wishes that she herself did not exist. Wada intercuts these musings with scenes of Rie from Eri’s work in progress. Eri has turned Rie into an alcoholic in a loveless marriage who has become pregnant and, as a result, is contemplating suicide. Eri’s introspections are as self-destructive as Rie’s and Wada’s framing and lighting accentuates this duality most affectively.

All of the sudden Body Drop Asphalt erupts into a manic frenzy of video effects and quick cuts as Rie accosts her creator from within the laptop. Eri’s world turns into a frantic fantasy of apocalyptic proportions as Rie scolds Eri for forsaking her own potential and creativity in favor of self-indulgent writing. Eri’s every thought is manifest as she runs through the street trying not to think. Eri is beset by thousands of cockroaches only to destroy the planet earth with one thought. Soon, Eri is standing before a comically rendered version of God (Katsu Kanai) who instructs her to heed Rie’s advice. Where the emotional power of Body Drop Asphalt lived in those moments of Eri lost in her thoughts, all the visual ingenuity and invention comes from those manic moments of Eri’s creativity.

Body Drop Asphalt celebrates self-reliance and love as much as it glorifies the act of creating. Wada’s vision of identity fulfilled is, despite the eccentric journey, an optimistic one. On a holiday all about finding that “perfect someone” it is important to remember those stories about forming a healthy relationship with one’s self.