If grief doesn’t exist in the absence of love, what would you call the all-consuming color of the room that Oko creates his hellish masterpieces in? Does the crimson hue that bathes the grieving truly give them a sinister shot at reuniting with what they’ve lost, or does it exploit the crippling emptiness they’ve been left with? Keishi Kondo’s wickedly spiritual body horror, New Religion, is, in its very essence, a terrifying symbol of isolation, immeasurable pain, and the ghost of loss.
Plot Synopsis: What Happens In ‘New Religion’?
Echoes of a crumbling economy and a dreadful scarcity of employment have consumed the state, this is what serves as the active backdrop for Miyabi’s crisis. In a matter of seconds, Miyabi being immersed in Virginia Woolf’s words has cost her the only color in her life. It’s one thing to lose your daughter to a freak accident that must’ve hurt the poor little thing like hell; it’s a whole other chaos when the parasite of guilt takes over your grief. The haunting lack of any emotion whatsoever on Miyabi’s face never stops reminding you that her grief has consumed her entirely, and riding the coattails of her grief, so has her guilt. The flickering lights of the drab workplace, which further robs her of any sense of identity, destroy Miyabi. But she keeps mum, waters her traumatized plants, numbs herself down to nothing to sustain her livelihood as a sex worker, and goes through each day only because the only other option is death. Unlike her coworker Akira, who seems to have been overcome with a rabid psychosis that makes her imagine her late father in a rather peculiar and disturbingly graphic way, Miyabi’s facade of being alright doesn’t falter too often. That is, until her terrified eyes gawk at the intestines that Akira pulls out of a man before going on a mindless killing spree and bombing a museum.
How Does Akira’s Psychosis Affect Miyabi?
It’s almost seamless how easily Miyabi’s life crumbles down when Akira goes missing and leaves a trail of violently butchered bodies behind. And because Miyabi is a difficult person to read, there’s no reason not to wonder if she goes down chasing the source of the terror just to feel something. Through the design of the dark cosmos, sullen Miyabi falls face-first into the enigmatic trap laid out by the peculiar photographer, Oko. The demonic growl exuding from the speakers he’s been speaking through ever since he lost his voice to cancer is hardly the most terrifying thing about Oko. Yet Miyabi is oddly at peace in the darkness of Oko’s apartment as the sounds coming from his TV, waging an entomological war against existence itself, wash over her. With every picture clicked of certain parts of her body, Miyabi is enamored by the risky sensation of reconciliation with her loss. The first thing grief steals is clarity of mind, and that is exactly what Oko’s obsession with photographing strangers’ limbs aims to exploit.
What Effect Does The Photographer Have On Miyabi?
Before we get to the eerie and utterly nerve-wracking consequences of each Polaroid Oko takes, let’s get the burning question out of the way. Who, or more aptly, what, is Oko? Although his tangible identity is gravely overshadowed by his acutely destructive actions, Oko’s very existence is bound to unnerve you with its ominous ambiguity. Is he even a person? Or the very manifestation of grief itself feeding off the wretchedness his marionettes are consumed by? It would also be fair to speculate that he’s a man with a dark, convincingly spiritual ritual that he abuses to summon chaos and the absolute destruction of social institutions. But, more on that later. It’s irrefutably visible on Miyabi that with each photograph taken of her body, her loss is locking her in a deadly embrace like a parasitic vine. The more she allows herself the frightening comfort of feeling the presence of her dead daughter, the further she strays from the bounds of sanity. It’s only normal that the man who loves her refuses to let her psychosis spiral out of control. If anything, it’s only a testament to his love that he’s been holding on when Miyabi’s hallucinations of her daughter are at an all-time high. He may be a keeper, and he may not necessarily be lying to her concerned pimp when he says that she’s not taking drugs, but Miyabi is an addict. She’s entirely under the hold of the creepy photography sessions, which increasingly brings her closer to the one she wants more than anything in the world.
‘New Religion’ Ending Explained: What Happens To Miyabi In The End?
If anything, the strange life cycle of a moth and Oko’s nefarious obsession with the same being the predominant theme in New Religion only make his motives come off even more elusive. Yet, somehow, the hauntingly god-like man’s ulterior motive seems to reek of revenge. Has the urge for the destruction of art, unity, and every enriching society generated from his own isolation? Does he get a wicked kick out of handpicking and alienating those already afflicted with loss and abuse? There’s no reasonable way to dismiss the supernatural propensities that go along with everything Oko says or does. The violently twitching man who inadvertently causes the pimp’s death could very well be the creation of Oko. Maybe he put together a sentinel of mayhem with the grief-soaked limbs he’d borrowed from the people he photographed.
You might have noticed that Miyabi and her boyfriend didn’t exactly come off as a couple. And the bulk of the responsibility for the very apparent lack of chemistry falls on Miyabi’s glaring incapability of reciprocating the affection he was dying to give her. There was only one thing she had her senses awake for; the return of her daughter. Even if it meant she had to strip herself down to her radically self-absorbed self, bereft of anything good or constructive, she’d happily give it her all to reunite with the one whose death she blamed herself for. Every harbinger of terror needs to latch himself onto someone teeming with dread. And what better victim than a girl who lost her father as a child and was raised by an abusive, schizophrenic mother? Who else would let him in completely and give him a free pass to weaponize her pain than a mother whose life stopped the day her daughter died?
Miyabi’s never been anything if not decidedly docile and soft. Even the slap she planted on her boyfriend’s face when he shattered a plant in the garden which, for her, was her way of holding on to her daughter, hardly had any force to it. So why would a woman like her murder her boyfriend in cold blood, siphon gas, drive into a school, and carry out a disastrous explosion? Unlike Akira, who truly was brainwashed by the visions brought on by her sessions with Oko, Miyabi was completely aware that her daughter didn’t actually defy death and come back to her. Yet, the longing to hold her little frame again, the dream to water the plants in her balcony garden with the kid whose death practically ended Miyabi, were too tempting for the grieving mother. So despite being completely aware of Oko’s vile intentions, Miyabi let herself go fully. She allowed him to traipse through her memories and pick out the one which she held the closest to her heart–the beach day with her daughter. What you see happening at the train station as the ending sequence reels you in only to leave you thoroughly confused, is Oko’s hunt for the next victim, and that happens to be Miyabi’s ex-husband. Keeping with the film’s title, Oko’s been employing the broken to shatter the very fabric of cohesion that holds the world together. Divide and conquer.