Siblings of the Cape
Yuya Matsuura, Misa Wada, Masayasu Kitayama
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Not every film is meant to make an audience feel good. Some of the greatest moments in cinema history are the result of putting a stone into the viewer’s stomach, making them connect with a fictional story so viscerally that they feel melancholy or even anger. The distinction between a ‘good’ depressing film and a bad one is all down to intent and presentation: is there a reason why it wants to get that kind of reaction from the viewer? Is it a worthy invitation for empathy or is it simply inflicting misery for its own sake? Siblings Of The Cape, in no uncertain terms, fits into the latter category.
It’s the story of life below Japan’s poverty line through the eyes of a pair of siblings, the physically-disabled Yoshio (Yûya Matsuura) and the intellectually-disabled Mariko (Misa Wada). It aims for a Larry Clark/Harmony Korine style griminess to show how dire their living situation is, eg. the two of them resorting to eating tissues out of the garbage just to fill their stomachs. However, much like Clark and Korine, rather than saying anything of note about their class situation and/or what it makes people resort to, this is far more content to just wallow in its own misery.
As a last resort, in order to pay the bills, Yoshio literally pimps out his own sister for money. His developmentally-challenged, dependent-on-others, questionable-whether-she-can-even-consent-in-the-first-place sister. This is what makes up the bulk of the film’s narrative. Disabled sex workers are indeed a thing, and the over-simplistic argument of ‘disability = unable to consent’ is a complicated issue. But one deserving of more thought and actual understanding than anything found here.
There’s a scene where Yoshio gets accosted by other pimps, put into a wooden box and forced to watch his sister have sex with a john. That is this movie.
Aside from stimming around the house and engaging in sex work, Mariko has no agency. No real character of her own other than the label of ‘mentally disabled’. The film starts with her being both locked inside her own house and chained to the wall so she doesn’t leave, and it only gets worse from there. The only mercy given to her by the filmmakers is that, when we get to the scene with faeces-throwing (another disability stereotype given lip service here), it’s Yoshio doing it.
If there was a tangible point to this celluloid misery, it may have resulted in a visceral reaction. Instead, rather than feeling anything towards the characters, it only engenders resentment against the filmmakers who thought any of this was a good idea. It is manipulative bile without a point, and it makes one pine for the safe, reliable days of Freddy Got Fingered as far as depictions of sexually-active disabled people go.