The mixture of ultra-modern technological achievements and ancient-old traditions, norms and codes of conduction in Japan might seem to work perfectly, but an in-depth look would reveal some major flaws and injustices of the system. In a deeply traditional and patriarchal society such is the Japanese, women often find themselves on the receiving end, and that topic rarely finds its way to movies. Having that in mind, Ryo Kawasaki’s debut feature “Wasted Eggs”, world-premiering at the first films competition of Tallinn Black Nights Film Festival (PÖFF) might seem like a maverick effort addressing the important topics from a distinctively female point of view.
It is expected for a Japanese woman to find the meaning of life in marriage and having children and the presumed “due date” would be her 30th birthday, because after that she would be considered somewhat undesirable candidate for a bride and a mother. Also, as we are informed early on in the film, Japanese policies on artificial insemination are quiet restrictive: while it is not illegal per se, the procedure has to take place abroad. However, women of certain age with no marriage prospects in sight who still want to leave the trace, genetically speaking, can become egg donors in fertility clinics and the perks for the candidates selected include a winter vacation in Hawaii and a paycheck of 500.000 yens.
One of them is our lead Junko (Mitsue Terasaka) who we meet doing a survey at the clinic. She is a quiet, mousy type, has no career to speak of, working a secretarial kind of job at the office, lives alone and is not into dating, while her mother pushes her to give her the grandchildren. At the same clinic, she meets her younger cousin Aoi (Sora Kawai) who is in financial troubles and is still trying to get herself together after a breakup with her girlfriend. Needless to say, she is not the marrying type either, with her tomboyish appearance and rebellious attitude and she is facing severe pressure from her family. The two women start living together, but their differences in character and way of life get in their way…
Kawasaki’s directing is also competent, but far from astonishing, relying on the combination of shots by the DOP Kyohito Tanabe’s hand-held camera and the dialogue scenes done in a shot-reverse shot fashion. Since her past credits include mainly television and some shorts, her achievement here can be considered a step forward.
She takes her time (of the brisk 70 minutes total) to get to the point and to the main topic which is quite universal: the fear of getting old, but it has a specially bitter flavour in the context of being a woman in Japan. Both of the characters need some kind of change, but they are not sure about it or if they are able to handle it. Some of the metaphors developed from the title in the film’s script are extremely clever, like the economic cost of the menstruation (on hygiene, for instance), which is a clear manifestation of wasting eggs. On the other hand, the central, recurring metaphor of eggs (chicken) being scrambled in a bowl from the beginning only to be wasted in the moment of an artificial dramatic climax in the end is a bit vulgar, though sometimes neatly incorporated in the film’s sound scheme, adding some rhythm to Miki Kobayashi’s piano-heavy soundtrack.
The feeling of the artificial drama is highlighted by pretty stale character development and almost no development of the relationship between the two women, while somewhat clunky dialogue does not help either. Having that in mind, both of the relatively inexperienced actresses are doing a decent job in their roles and are quite successful in bringing the positions of their characters close to the audience.
Modest in the terms of budget and artistic aspirations, “Wasted Eggs” works best as a subtle expose of concrete social issues and can be commended for its activist value.