Alexandra Daddario has a wonderfully expressive face and a natural screen presence, and she’s done her best work on TV in vehicles such as “True Detective” and “”American Horror Story” — but she turns in arguably her finest performance to date in the VOD feature film “Lost Girls & Love Hotels,” a smart and sobering erotic psychological thriller that plays like “Looking for Mr. Goodbar” meets “Lost in Translation.”
Though clearly working with a limited budget, director William Olsson does a superb job of adapting Catherine Hanrahan’s semi-autobiographical novel about a North American expat who is living in Japan and nearly drowning in excess partying and anonymous and sometimes dangerous sexual encounters. Daddario’s Margaret lands a job teaching English — well, actually just pronouncing English phrases — to aspiring flight attendants at a Tokyo school, under the watchful and sometimes judgmental tutelage of a headmistress (Misuzu Kanno) who harbors a soft spot for Margaret because she sees a bit of her younger self in this disorganized, self-destructive young woman.
Director Olsson and cinematographer Kenji Katori bathe the film in dark and sexy visual tones as Margaret spends her nights hanging with a couple of fellow expats (played by Andrew Rothney and Carice van Houten from “Game of Thrones”), getting wasted and then wandering off for random sexual encounters — and that’s when Margaret’s wounded psyche rises to the forefront, as she insists her partners indulge her fetish for rough S&M play, including choking her to the point of nearly passing out. When one participant backs off and says he wants to get to know Margaret as a person and not just an object of sexual gratification, she snaps: “No you don’t.” She uses rough sex as a defense mechanism and as a way of punishing herself because she has no sense of self-worth.
The last thing Margaret is looking for is love, but she finds herself falling for a dashing and mysterious older man named Kazu (Takehiro Hira in a mesmerizing performance), who has intricate and imposing full-body tattoos indicating he’s with Yakuza, aka Japanese organized crime. “Lost Girls & Love Hotels” takes on elements of “9 ½ Weeks” and “Fifty Shades of Grey” as Margaret and Kazu become intertwined, physically and beyond, which could lead either to Margaret’s salvation or her demise. The story ends on a perfect note and we’ll leave it at that.
This is one of the better intimate dramas of the year.