By Sam Hawkins
For all its ambiguity, Wayne Wang’s While the Women are Sleeping shows off some self-awareness early on in the film.
Hot on the heels of two mysterious targets, Kenji (played by Hidetoshi Nishijima) walks into the storefront they just walked out of. Attempting to uncover their connection, he strikes up a conversation with the shopkeep, inquiring about their business and who these two people might be. While the topic doesn’t last long, this doesn’t stop it from transitioning to something else entirely.
Like some sort of urban legend, the owner explains the essence of silk stockings. Claiming that they are at their most seductive when thin enough to be both solid and sheer; in doing so, he hammers home the importance of keeping onlookers guessing.
In a strange way, Wang’s latest release attracts our attention for the same reason. Very rarely allowing its audience to get a grip of what’s actually going on, the story relies on those watching to decipher each and every moment. But unlike the allure of silk stockings, While the Women are Sleeping puts a strain on its spectators.
The film follows Kenji, a restless writer on the verge of reoccupation, who on holidays with his wife grows obsessed with an older man and his fledgling female companion. Making his way to their window one night, Kenji discovers the old man (played by Beat Takeshi) videotaping the young girl while she sleeps. As his interaction with this odd couple continues, Kenji begins to drift further from reality, altering his perception as well as our own.
Although intriguing, the ensuing fragmentation becomes overwhelming and unclear. Between hallucinations, awkward interactions and the possibility that Kenji’s up-and-coming novel has come to life, we lose proper reference points to evaluate what is actually happening. While entertaining enough, one will surely leave with more than a few questions upon its conclusion.
Based on the short story by Javier Marias, Wang does well to intensify the tension between each character and facilitate the overall sense of unease. Applying a palette of grey and blue, the inescapable surroundings add to the film’s apprehension and amplify Kenji’s erratic behavior.
Full of fine performances, each actor enhances this cinematic anomaly. With his trademark twitch and distinct deadpan, Beat Takeshi proves that his character of the old man is as insidious as they come. And with his quick descent into chaos, Nishijima provides an engaging display.
While maybe not as sultry as silk stockings, Wayne Wang’s While the Women are Sleeping is worth watching.
Watch While the Women are Sleeping on Saturday, October 8 at 10:45AM at the International Village 9.