When a young woman’s life falls apart through a series of events around her, she’s left with nothing—except a plan, not for restoration, but revenge. But we learn that revenge may be just as unsatisfying as the life she has been left with. Kôji Fukada’s A Girl Missing relates such a story as it alternates between before and after timelines.
The film begins with the demarcation of the before and after—Ichiko (Mariko Tsutsui) goes into a salon to get her hair cut and colored. (The hairstyle becomes a visual marker as to which storyline we are in.) Ichiko has asked for a particular stylist, even though she’s not been to the salon before. We learned she’s recently lost her job and is looking to start anew. That sounds simple enough, but when we watch the events that follow, we see it is far from simple.
But we also see what happened before that led up to that new beginning. Ichiko works as a private nurse for the Oisho family, taking care of their grandmother. She is almost like part of the family. She is mentoring the older granddaughter Motoko (Mikako Ichikawa) who seeks to become a nurse as well. (We learn along the way that Motoko has something of a crush on Ichiko.) But then a tragedy strikes the family, Motoko’s little sister goes missing. She is found safe some days after, but it is discovered that Ichiko’s nephew was the culprit. At Motoko’s urging, Ichiko stays quiet about her connection. But when it is discovered things begin to unravel. We also learn that a serious betrayal is central to the news coming out.
The before storyline is told in a straightforward style. It gives us an overview of Ichiko’s life and how it slowly comes apart. The after storyline leaves us in the dark as to just what is happening, letting the before narrative shed bits of light into the shadows. This is a much darker narrative. Ichiko has lost not only her job, but everything important in her life. We aren’t sure where she’s headed in this story until all the pieces from the before story have come into place. Only then do we know why she is doing what she is doing.
The vindictiveness that drives the betrayal of Ichiko and Ichiko’s pursuit of revenge really becomes the fuel of injuring those who act out of malice. While the actions may be meant to hurt the other person, in the end, those who do these spiteful actions end up diminishing themselves as much as the other person. A lesson that seeking to harm others often backfires.
A Girl Missing is available on Virtual Cinema through local arthouses.
Photos courtesy of Film Movement.