“Women. No matter how human they seem… they’re just shadows. But on the other hand, aren’t we all?”
From the edges of the bizarre and the extremely weird, “She’s Just A Shadow” is truly something else.
The matriarch of a Tokyo prostitution empire, married to a vicious and violent pimp, leads her own gang against rival yakuza. All the while, a serial killer prey on her girls and one of her men is caught in a twisted love triangle.
In the opening scene we are witness to the serial killer masturbating over his screaming victim whom he’s tied to the tracks as a train barrels down upon them. This certainly sets the insane mood that writer/director Adam Sherman is going for—and he doesn’t let up.
Most of the time, Sherman’s film is style over substance (or substance abuse?) as he trades in cohesive plot for endless shots of drug-fueled excursions into extreme violence and sex. But there are scenes where the director lets some well-needed character moments shine through.
Kihiro as the tortured Gavin gives the film’s best turn as a man who is sick of the gangster and party life. He just wants to stop partying, kick the habit and settle into a life of normalcy with one or both of the two girls he has feelings for. Gavin’s fateful journey is our only connection to humanity in this world of over-the-top freaks and gangsters.
Sadly, Kihiro is the only real performance to speak of. Most of the actors (everyone speaks in English for some reason) seem uncomfortable saying their lines while others try much too hard, to the point of annoyance.
Sherman’s screenplay is somewhat pedestrian and for many scenes it seems as if he wrote it just to have an excuse to splatter blood and showcase naked women. This film is indeed an orgy of sex and drugs, extreme violence, Asian fetishism and pure uncorked excess.
That said, this madhouse of a film is also a candy-colored exploitation piece that actually drew me in, despite the flaws. The director overcomes his own failings by plunging the viewer into a visually-lurid and dreamlike world where the colors pop and the characters stumble their way through their bloody fates.
The eye-popping visual style (courtesy of David Newbert) is the true star of the film. Under his masterly strokes Tokyo (and the characters who crawl through its underbelly) looks like a Japanese Manga. The bright pinks, blues, purples, and bloody reds, sleek but not glossy, strike perfect visual notes.
“She’s Just a Shadow” is a film that is colorful on the outside but oh-so-dark and ugly in its soul. Director Sherman pays mild homage to the works of Tarantino, which I find a bit redundant as Tarantino’s films are tributes to other films themselves. But Sherman doesn’t have enough fun with it. His dialogue just isn’t strong enough to sustain the characters he creates. These are ugly people who inhabit ugly worlds and commit ugly acts, but he gives them cartoonish and overly dour personalities, ergo, we have no one to root for.
But this is a film of voyeuristic illusion that masks what essentially becomes a tale of revenge, and it is here where the film succeeds. “Shadow” gains focus when its main characters discover the identity of the killer and go after him once he kills a couple of their own. It is at this point that Sherman gains a firm foothold and brings it all home.
Light-years from perfect and at times really annoying, “She’s Just a Shadow” is a film that will repulse many yet interest a few. It beats with a seventies grindhouse heart buried in the skin of flashy filmmaking of the 2010s. But insofar as I couldn’t stop watching this film, I consider it a successful work.