This pseudo-documentary about an aborted remake of Alain Resnais' Hiroshima Mon Amour came about after actual plans to do so were thwarted by disagreements between director Nobuhiro Suwa and prospective star and writer Kou Machida (a.k.a. Machizo Machida, novelist, poet, musician and co-star of Sogo Ishii's 1982 stunner Burst City / Bakuretsu Toshi).
To salvage his film, Suwa dug up Umano, a Japanese student based in London who, unlike Machida, could speak French. But having to act opposite the commanding presence of Béatrice Dalle, this novice was hardly up to the challenge. Suwa attempted to turn his failure into a virtue and reshaped his doomed project into an awkward mix of documentary and fiction, detailing the production of the film and the many problems that plagued it, all the while grafting a new fictional story of a blossoming behind-the-scenes romance between Dalle and Machida (now relegated to playing second fiddle as the writer of the aborted film).
Though it's commendable that Suwa was so tenacious in getting his project made (even if that meant turning it into something completely different), the resulting film can hardly be called successful. In fact, a resounding failure would be a more accurate description of this drawn-out meditation on the burden of being an artist, another sad example of how a member of what was once seen as the most promising generation of filmmakers in recent Japanese cinema, takes himself far too seriously and goes completely overboard into tedious self-indulgence.
With languid pacing, dialogue reduced to barely audible whispers and many scenes ridiculously underlit (by France's top cinematographer Caroline Champentier, no less) this film is sometimes so low-key it runs the risk of disappearing altogether. Which, come to think of it, would not be such a bad idea. H Story is an aimless, plodding excuse for a film, consisting largely of close-ups of Béatrice Dalle (after boredom had firmly taken hold it dawned on me how much her teeth resembled the images of devastated post-war Hiroshima, which are scattered throughout the film). Supremely unlikeable, Dalle portrays herself as a tortured, suffering artist, who feels misunderstood by everyone around her, radiates arrogance and disdain, and can't wait for the last day of shooting to come around. Incidentally, this is exactly how everyone else in the film plays themselves, resulting in a collection of self-centered tortured souls playing prima donna for an interminable 110 minutes.
And at the center of it all is the director, who portrays himself as the most suffering artist of all. "Don't you feel sorry for me," Suwa seems to say, "for having to deal with all these terrible people every day?". He makes it seem as if being film director is right down there with cleaning toilets as an attractive career option. With that, H Story goes beyond simply being a tedious and excruciating bore, to become a film against cinema. Faced with such conceit, we can only hope that the money that has been reserved for future Suwa projects will go to people who actually appreciate the fact that they are in the privileged position of being a filmmaker.
A mindnumbing waste of good celluloid, H Story will probably do more to drive people away from Japanese cinema than all the low-budget sado-torture films put together, and emerges as the main contender for the title of, pardon a tasteless pun, the biggest bomb of the year.