Playing like a cross between “Looking For Mr. Goodbar” and “Fifty Shades Of Gray,” LOST GIRLS & LOVE HOTELS is best seen as a character-driven arthouse film rather than something intended to provide tittilation. It raises some serious issues beyond its premise of a young woman looking for love in the wrong places.
Margaret (Alexandra Daddario) is from the west (presumably the Canada of author/screenwriter Catherine Hanrahan) working in Japan at a training school for airline stewardesses. Asked if she’s an “English teacher,” she denigrates herself by saying that all she does is teach them pronunciation. That speaks volumes of her lack of self-esteem.
When we first see her she’s walking along through an underground passageway and a man seems to be following her. We fear what’s going to happen next, but it’s entirely intentional. She’s looking to be picked up and taken to one of Tokyo’s “love hotels,” where rooms can be had for the night or just a few hours. She’s been running away from a troubled past, seeking oblivion in alcohol and meaningless sex, her only friends a couple of other dissolute ex-pats (Carice van Houten, Andrew Rothney).
When she meets Kazu (Takehiro Hira) it’s different. He’s strong and assured, with the self-confidence that comes from being a “yakuza” – a gangster in Japan’s underworld. There’s a definite attraction between them, both in and out of bed, but her hopes for a real, emotional connection will be dashed when she learns his secret, which sends her spiraling even further downward.
The story is clearly told from Margaret’s point of view and Daddario’s “girl next door” looks play against her need to feel degraded and submissive. As a psychological examination of this wounded woman, it’s a fascinating character study. The question is whether there’s any hope for her as she takes foolish risks and we see that the people around her are unable to help. Daddario plays her as someone who embraces her fate and thinks this is what she deserves.
On another level, there’s the unanswered question of “why Japan?” Hira is effective as Kazu, with much of his potential for violence merely implied, as in a scene in a sushi bar where his dealing with some boisterous drunk takes place mostly off screen. Yet couldn’t this have taken place anywhere, or certainly any modern post-industrial society? The point seems to be to heighten Margaret’s alienation from the world around her. She can speak Japanese, admire the culture, and even educate their aspiring stewardesses, but she will never be a part of this world. Her every waking moment reminds her how alone she is.
“Lost Girls & Love Hotels” may not have a profound answer to the universal human dilemma of seeking connection, but in exploring the questions it gives us some food for thought.•••
Daniel M. Kimmel is a veteran movie critic and author of a host of film-related books. His latest novel is Father of the Bride of Frankenstein. He is the 2018 recipient of the Skylark Award given by the New England Science Fiction Association. He lives in Somerville, Massachusetts.