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By Andreas Neuenkirchen | July 8, 2004

A young Tokyo tech freak uses his website to broadcast pictures of real-life events, ranging from news footage of the 9-11 attacks to peeping tom videos he takes of unaware strangers in their private homes. The site becomes increasingly popular, especially with young people in Shibuya, Tokyo’s most aggressively youth-oriented quarter where he advertises the site by handing out business cards. One girl in particular is fascinated by his work and becomes an accomplice. At first she helps him setting up new voyeuristic operations, later she herself willingly becomes an object of the webcasts, happy to have found a purpose in life. Watching the young girl’s uneventful life becomes so popular that the once free-of-charge service ultimately becomes a commercial endeavour…

This may sound more coherent than “Peep TV Show” actually is. Although Tsuchiya Yutaka’s film has a plot, it is not necessarily driven by it. This is essayistic filmmaking, mainly concerned with getting points across instead of working towards a brilliant twist ending. The characters take a while to register as real personalities instead of recurring yet random passers-by captured on video. Yes, the entire film is shot with a handheld digital video camcorder, and probably not the most sophisticated one on the market. The visual style is hectic, mixing video images with still photographs and written text excerpts from online chats.

Viewers who are accustomed to more conventional styles of filmmaking might have a hard time following “Peep TV Show”, but it’s mostly worth it. There is some pretension here, but not nearly as much as one might expect after the first collage of street scenes set to a mean industrial soundtrack and early ramblings about the WTC attacks. “Peep TV Show” asks some valid questions about voyeurism, like is it more perverted to watch your neighbour in her living room, or to have to watch planes crashing into skyscrapers over and over again? Is reality on video still real? And if so, is staying at home and watching TV the same as taking part in reality? Why go out when you can meet people online? Are those people friends? These questions are as old as TV news and the internet, yet they are rarely handled without prejudice. Tsuchiya Yutaka certainly is critical about the dangers of modern communication, but he doesn’t judge the characters in his film. He offers a lot of material for discussion and lets the actual discussing up to the viewers. While “Peep TV Show” is a film about voyeurism, it is not very voyeuristic itself. Its shaky and fast visual style is often wild, yet it always cuts away from potentially violent or sexually explicit moments. The camera remains at a respectful distance from its subjects.

It might have been shorter, it might have been more polished, it might have been more coherent. Yet, “Peep TV Show” is courageous and uncompromising filmmaking, as flawed as it’s admirable.

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