Archive for the ‘Erotic’ Category

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Love’s Whirlpool

June 7, 2014

The most stylish 18 rated film of the year

Ai no uzu (2014)

One room. Four men. Four Women.

Daisuke Miura is one of the most interesting Japanese filmmakers right now. Miura earned his fame with uncompromising, largely improvised theatre plays that have been described “live documentaries” and which drove some of the performers on the verge of nervous breakdown. Somewhat surprisingly against this background, Miura’s cinema breakthrough was the romantic comedy Boys on the Run (2010). The manga adaptation was a mainstream production, but nevertheless full of punk, sex and otaku mentality.

Now Miura is back to his own material. Love’s Whirlpool is based on his own theatre play about a group of strangers who gather together in luxury apartment in Tokyo to have sex. The film hit the theatres with the relatively rare R18+ rating, and it was well know long before its release that the cast would spend only 18 minutes of the film’s running time fully clothed.

Sex, however, is more of a psychological than physical theme in Love’s Whirlpool. The attendees get together to have sex without the need for the usual social interaction and dating routines. Yet, once their host leaves them alone the first reaction is a long uncomfortable silence. Sex only comes in a good bit later. Then, it doesn’t take long until anonymity, pretending, and true feelings begin to mix the psyche in unexpected ways.

It takes remarkable skill to handle such a minimal premise that essentially takes place in one room. Thankfully the execution is excellent. The superbly stylish introduction alone sets the expectations high. The technical execution is top notch from framing to lighting. The visuals are nevertheless secondary to Miura’s interesting and darkly humoristic study on emotions, group behaviour, and sex.

Miura has created quite a good selection of characters. The attendees include a businessman, an office lady, a factory worker, a kindergarten teacher, an unemployed man, a freelancer, a student and a regular customer. Although a few of them function primarily as tools for group dynamism, all of them are relatively believable and fleshed out characters. The actual storyline focuses on an unemployed man who develops a dangerously close relationship with another attendee.

Although the casting process was reportedly difficult due to the sexually explicit nature of the film, Miura hasn’t gone for the second grade adult video stars but instead talented and fearless actors such as Hirofumi Arai. The biggest surprise, however, is the rising young female star Mugi Kadowaki (Schoolgirl Complex, 2013), who defies the usual career path of young Japanese actresses by playing the film’s sexually most aggressive role – and does it pretty well despite slight overdoing.

Miura does several other things against expectations as well. In real life we usually get to know people through their public fronts, which include pretending, wearing suits, and hiding under makeup – and only learn about their real personalities much later, if ever. In Love’s Whirlpool Miura undresses all his characters before we know anything about them. We then learn to know a whole lot about them before we know what they are pretending in their normal lives. When Miura finally shows them fully clothed again in the film’s final act, the effect is very interesting.

It is somewhat surprising that the film’s biggest flaw is actually its occasional softening of characters. Miura doesn’t take the realism as far as would be expected, but instead builds a couple of slightly naïve and audience-pleasing drama structures.

Of course, a film with a cast as good looking as this wouldn’t quite match the reality in any case, although it’s actually not too much of a stretch. Commercial sex has become very mainstream and accepted in Japan, starting from sexy clubs that play an important part in Japanese after-work socializing even with the young and handsome. At the same time many youngsters choose not to engage in relationships but lead independent life instead. Keeping these issues in mind, Love’s Whirlpool doesn’t really stretch the believability too much. Miura also shows welcome mature attitude towards the topic by refraining from cheap moralizing.

Despite its small flaws, Love’s Whirlpool is easily the most interesting adult drama in a long time, and it also looks stylish as hell. Thankfully, it has become a major indie hit in Japan. After opening in a just a few theatres nationwide in March, it went to play in more than 60 theatres with some small theatres playing it 13 weeks non-stop. In Tokyo as well, it opened in only one theatre, but seven weeks later it was playing on five screens at the same time. Not bad for an 18 rated film.

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Hello My Dolly Girlfriend

August 1, 2013

Takashi Ishii officially joins the dirty old men club.

Figyua na anata (2013)

It is no secret Ishii has always had a thing for sex and violence – and sexual violence. This has been more than obvious since his breakthrough as a manga writer in the 1970’s. Ishii’s visual eye and tremendous skill as a writer, however, became ever more obvious as he entered the film biz.

In the 1980’s and 1990’s Ishii directed and/or write a number of terrific efforts (Love Hotel, 1985 ; Original Sin, 1992 ; Black Angel Vol. 2, 1999) where graphic sex made way for excellent screenwriting and stylish neo-noir visuals. Since then Ishii has come a long way down. With the SM films in the 2000’s Ishii no longer even pretends to hide his desires. The director’s latest, Hello My Dolly Girlfriend, is a shameless otaku epic like no other.

The film’s hero is a bullied young man (Takusu Emoto), whose new girlfriend is a living human size doll (Kokone Sasaki). Unlike most doll romances – which stretch from Death Note director Shusuke Kaneko’s Mischievous Lolita: Attacking the Virgin From Behind (1986) to arthouse auteur Hirokazu Koreeda’s Air Doll (2009) – Ishii goes straight for the rapes.

The film sees its heroine spend most of her time bottomless, and the protagonist has sex with her for the first time before she has even come alive.

Ishii’s trademarks are still here. Rain, neon lights, recycled music, and Naoto Takenaka. What is missing is solid direction.

The film’s main attribute is its sheer lack good taste. The most memorable sequence features a woman raped, killed, and then raped again. A moment later the heroine kicks the villains to the ground with roundhouse kicks – all without wearing pants, and shot from low angle.

This would all be fine within exploitation genre were the film less clumsy and more compact. At nearly two hours the film outstays its welcome before halfway. After concluding his yakuza outrage, Ishii dedicates the rest of the film for never ending fantasy sequences – and Kokone’s naked body.

The latter attempt is doomed from the beginning, thanks to Japan’s prevailing movie censorship. Unlike the graphic rape of a dead woman, full frontal nudity is still considered obscene by the Japanese officials. The result is digital mosaic throughout the film.

(To clear things up, pubic hair does pass the Japanese censorship these days; however, Ishii’s heroine is trimmed, and the cameraman crawling half of the time, resulting in revealing material that even the notorious R18+ rating could justify.)

The film is not without its amusing points, though. The hero, a work-bullied office rat, is a violent macho man – when watching adult videos! When he encounters a real woman – in this case an enraged lesbian – he runs for his life. Japan’s traditional masculine society combined with the ever growing power of women has resulted in sad misfits who can only feel comfortable with dolls, anime characters and underage girls.

Occasional poignant moments do not make a film, though. As exploitation Hello My Dolly Girlfriend just isn’t energetic enough; as satire the fan service galore makes it impossible to take seriously. Any hopes of Ishii’s return to form, raised by his his previous effort, A Night in Nude: Salvation (2010), are brought down.

Next Ishii will be delivering another R18+ rated SM film, Sweet Whip, which opens in September, only three months after Hello My Dolly Girlfriend. That time Ishii aims at unclothing Mitsu Dan, who also has small role in Dolly Girlfriend.

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Underwater Love

January 2, 2012

Delighting pop-art piece from a pink director.

Onna no kappa: Underwater Love (Japan/Germany, 2011)

Being a film that is barely Japanese, Underwater Love must be the most unlikely yet strongest candidate for the official “made-in-Japan” product of 2011! Pink director Shinji Imaoka has gathered an unbelievable gang: Wong Kar Wai’s former cinematographer Christopher Doyle, Germany’s pop-duo Stereo Total, and Japan’s splatter-madman Yoshihiro Nishimura. The genre is soft-core kappa musical!

The kappa are Japanese folklore creatures – mischievous frog-men and troublemakers who give people hard time. Underwater Love’s kappa is a lesser evil –he rises from the sea to chase a long lost love. The kappa, before his death and turning into a cucumber chewing, water run greenie, was in love with a now middle aged woman.

Billed as “the world’s first pink musical” Underwater Love isn’t actually that much of a pink fair. Director Imaoka has gone an extra mile to bargain from the genre requirements – there’s more singing and dancing than sex in the film.

At 85 minutes Underwater Love also exceeds the typical genre specs by good 20 minutes. This is entirely rare, though: the genre’s most valued directors (Noboru Tanaka, Tatsumi Kumashiro, etc.) have always been granted some extra freedom. And why not; Imaoka’s pic is a film well suited for festival distribution, perhaps even limited theatrical run in selected countries!

Imaoka is the most interesting of Japan’s active pink directors. A former apprentice of the genre’s notorious devil Hisayasu Sato, Imaoka now follows his own, much more romantic path. His clever senior-pinks Uncle’s Paradise (2006) and Tasogare – The Tender Throbbing Twilight (2008) were international festival favorites, and the 2005 Frog Song was widely distributed on DVD. Frog Song also ended with a delighting frog musical of an ending.

Underwater Love came to be when the Germany’s moneymen suggested Imaoka a co-production. The team was supplemented with (probably) the world’s most famous cinematographer Christopher Doyle, Berlin based German-French pop-duo Stereo Total, gore-nuts sfx-artist Yoshihiro Nishimura, and even Midnight Eye’s film critic Tom Mes. The whole film was shot in five days – an unusually long schedule for a pink film.

The outcome is an excellent film. Imaoka directs with love for silly cinema, Doyle raises the visual bar far above the genre’s modern standards, Nishimura’s simple kappa masks do the job, and most of Stereo Total’s Japangrish language kitsch songs unexpectedly catchy. Humor adds to the already light tone, but without underlining the silliness of it all too much. A hipster pic it is not, although bound to be slated as one by less educated audiences.

For a pink film there is a relatively few sex scenes – only four – and thankfully so (sex is pretty much the most boring invention in the history of cinema). What is found in the film is fun and romantic – as is the rest of the film. While not a kid’s film due adult themes and graphic sexuality, Underwater Love is indeed quite an innocent and charming fantasy for adult audiences – something much less stressing than your average pg-13 action film.

The 36-year old lead actress Sawa Masaki is worth an extra mention. Pink films often stumble with their less-than-talented pink cast, but the TV/mainstream actress Masaki is no genre regular. Her endlessly energetic performance doesn’t always hit the target, but no one can blame her for lack of trying. Yoshiro Umezawa, mostly hidden under the kappa mask, is even better in his voice-acting driven role.

While minibudget Nippon-insanity’s become a curse word for some, Underwater Love strikes back and proves limited resources can produce not only charming, but also technically competent “cult cinema”. Multiply the budget by 100 and it probably wouldn’t have made it a any better movie – well, maybe the lip sync would’ve improved, and they would’ve had enough time and film to complete the final scene (rather than use freeze frame). However, the fact that retakes could not be afforded, and time to practice simply wasn’t there, merely comes out in bursting positive energy.

Even though it lacks any deeper content, Underwater Love is one of most enjoyable films of 2011 – and for a closer reference, beats Yoshimasa Ishibashi’s bigger budgeted but slightly similar pop-explosion Milocrorze (2011) hands down.

DVD note: Third Window Film’s UK release is well worth picking up, being native pal for once, and featuring the original soundtrack on CD (limited to 2000 copies)

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A Night in Nude: Salvation (DC)

July 23, 2011

Nûdo no yoru: Ai wa oshiminaku ubau (Japan, 2010)

Takashi Ishii, mostly stuck with low budgets S&M films these days, was once Japan’s most interesting noir director. His early 90’s films such as A Night in Nude (1993) and Alone in the Night (1994) beautifully brought his trademark neon-lit visuals to 35 mm film. A Night in Nude was the most interesting of those neo noir films, not only visually, but also because of a fantastic starring performance by Japan’s ignored gem of an actor, Naoto Takenaka. A Night in Nude: Salvation brings the duo back to limelight, although with a digital flavor this time.

A Night in Nude: Salvation is a follow-up to the original, although not directly related in terms of storyline. But in terms of theme and context, it’s old school Ishii to a pleasing extent. Takenaka is back as Muraki, a private entrepreneur promising to tackle all assignments within legal limits. Mostly, his work consists of substituting gigs – attending memorials in place of others, or even taking dogs out for a piss. But the ill-lucked noir hero attracts trouble – last time he fell to a yakuza woman. This time he’s offered a seemingly harmless task: to regain a gold watch that was lost when a deceased man’s ashes were scattered in forest.

Hired by an innocent looking young woman, little does Muraki know the dead man didn’t turn into ashes the normal way: he was, in fact, killed by three women who accidentally lost the vital piece of evidence while getting rid of body parts (in a scene highly reminiscent of Sion Sono’s Cold Fish, 2010). Murakami soon finds himself in a situation reflecting the past events (from the original movie). He’s somewhere between the merciless yakuza and the women who might still have hope of being pulled off from this dark world. It’s his change for salvation; to correct the old mistakes and finally do something good.

A Night in Nude: Salvation looks and feels what Ishii fans have been hoping for even since he stopped making crime and yakuza-eiga. Ishii’s neo-Tokyo in Salvation is instantly recognizable with its neon lights, strip clubs, and mental case yakuza running the night life. Murakami’s quests for answers drive him ever deeper into the night. There, he walks across Nikkatsu legend Joe Shishido, probably assumed dead by most viewers by now. Ishii shows little respect to the screen legend: he is made portray the biggest sleazebag in the entire film.

One area where Salvation falls slightly short is the technical side. Ishii knows how to use digital to a decent effect, but it’s nevertheless a mismatch to his slightly romanticized neo-noir style. The original film looked more colorful and was visually more detailed, no doubt because Ishii was able to draw bigger budgets back then. Salvations does, nevertheless, look good – just not quite as good as it could in a better world.

As screenwriter Ishii has always excelled (for his grade bravura see Shinji Somai’s haunting Love Hotel, 1985). Salvation fares quite well in this respect for its first three quarters. Despite the violently and sexually graphic images Salvation is very much a story film – and a strong one at that. It’s only towards the end that Ishii steps into a psychological landmine. It’s also to be mentioned that some of Muraki’s motivations and naivety towards the end may not fully open to viewers unfamiliar with the character’s past misadventures.

Most negatives are compensated by strong casting. For the Takenaka fans Salvation is indeed a salvation: the man has been found in too many Noboru Iguchi film cameos in the recent years. His screen opponent, played by the 30 year younger Hiroko Sato, is quite a sight. Aside her looks, the stunning gravure idol actually manages her acting duties rather well, despite challenging role. Less can be said about the supporting female bunch, all of whom have been written as cinematic pains in the ass.

A Night in Nude: Salvation was released in two versions. The original theatrical version cut tons of graphic footage to secure an R-15 rating. The second theatrical print restored these shots and more, adding almost 20 minutes to the running time. While adding quite a decent bit to the characters, as well as showing full frontal Hiroko Sato nudity at every other turn, the extended version does probably over-explain and lengthen the already long-enough noir pic. Without having seen the original 126 minute version, one might assume the shorther version to be slightly superior of the two cuts. Nevertheless, Salvation is by far the most interesting Ishii film in at least 10 years, regardless of version viewed. Finally strong Japanese neo-noir is back on silver screen!

Note: the version screened at Nippon Connection was, against all announcements and catalogue information, the longer Director’s Cut running approximately 145 minutes.

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Perfect Education: Maid, for you 3D

January 28, 2011

Kanzen naru shiiku: Maid, for you (Japan 2010)

Moe Moe Special Beam!

Japan’s maid cafes are an otaku culture offspring fighting for its share of the mainstream kawaii cake enjoyed not just by male nerds but ordinary citizens and normal girls alike.

In Maid, for you the ‘always two steps behind the trends’ master filmmaker Kenta Fukasaku provides his essay on the subject, enhanced with 3D sex scenes.

Maid, for you a ridiculous entertaining affair, accurately missing almost every intellectual point, and most likely not on purpose. Of course, in reality, maid cafes are silly let loose entertainment for most customers, and employ a very much entirely sane staff.

None of that would go well with Fukasaku’s nerd-maid kidnap romance but nor does it have to. The reality is out there, this is a movie. Grab a beer and enjoy the ride, filled with cinematic wft-moments, cute maids, occasionally quite beautiful digital cinematography, and gravure idol gone nude Ayano’s 3D assets that home technology does no justice.

 

NOTES

Perfect Education

– A series of 7 movies (so far).

– The premise is always the same: a man kidnaps a woman and tries to educate her into a loving partner.

– The series is highly uneven, with entries varying from Masaki Kobayashi’s art house drama (the 5th film) to the more serious minded kidnap film (the 2nd film), and post-modern semi-parody (the 1st film).

– The third film is a Hong Kong co-production, shot in HK, and starring a multinational cast.

– Naoto Takenaka stars in the first film, and plays a supporting role in all others, except the 6th entry.

– Other notable supporting stars and guests include Shinya Tsukamoto (1st film), Lam Suet (3rd film), and Ken’ichi Matsuyama (4th film).

– The female stars are as follows: Hijiri Kojima (1st film), Rie Fukami (2nd film), Kana Ito (3rd film), Hisako Shirata (4th fim), Keiko Oginome (5th film), Mika Ito (6th film), and Ayano (7th film). All of them appear topless in the films.

– Hisako Shirata (the female star of the 4th film, released in 2003) was Japan’s selection for the 2006 Miss International Contest. It caused a small scandal when it was afterwards discovered she had starred in a movie where se does nude and sex scenes. The judges were completely unaware of her past career.

Fukasaku’s film

– Exploitation is the purest form. See an innocent maid brutally kidnapped! Witness a forbidden romance between an otaku and maid! Watch a pure girl turn into a sexy beast!

– Uses every otaku-cliche found in the book.

– Was not a big release in Japan. It only played in a couple of major cities, skipping many cities like Sapporo (population: 1.9 million).

3D

– There are only 4 or 5 scenes in 3D. These include 2 sex scenes, 1 dance scene, and possibly something else (I watched the film in July or August so I can’t remember so well).

– The Japanese DVD release comes with two pairs of red&blue 3D glasses. With casual TV set at least, you can hardly get any 3D effect, just distorted colors.

Maid cafe

– Cute Japanese girls dressed as French maids, serving over-priced coffee and chocolate cake, and occasionally singing and dancing a bit (depends of the cafe). Photographs at premium price.

– Customer is referred as goshujin (master)

– Has its roots in Japanese otaku (geek) culture, but is effectively making its way to mainstream as silly and harmless “let loose entertainment.

– The phenomena is not sexual in nature, but instead a part of Japanese kawaii (cuteness culture). Innocence is the key word. Still, a maid cafe secretly offering sexual favors (probably run by the yakuza) was discovered by the police in Akihabara.

– Originating from Tokyo’s Akiba (Akihabara) district – the official geek block full of Anime and IT shops – but spreading to other cities (saw one in Sapporo, too) and even foreign countries. In Akiba you can find them easily – just grab a map from a street maid.

– Some maid cafe’s have Engrish speaking maids.

– Increasingly popular among female customers, especially university age girls.

– Variations exists, most notoriously, zombie cafe!

Ayano

– Ayano is a former gravure idol. Her current “gravure status” is arguable, as she has topless scenes in the film, and has appeared in nude photos before. Gravure idols are typically swimsuit etc. models who tease but never show real skin.

– Ayano’s full name is Ayano Oami.

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Love & Loathing & Lulu & Ayano

September 9, 2010

Namae no nai onnatachi (Japan, 2010)

A semi-fictional look behind the scenes of Japanese Adult Video (AV) industry, helmed by Hisayasu Sato, the famed director of Lolita Vibrator Torture (1987) and other underground pink classics. The outcome is surprisingly restrained next to the director’s past films, but not a failure in by any means. Sadistic violence, and somewhat surprisingly the more shocking sex, are both missing, although mainstream classification would be stretching it a bit.

Wasting no time for introductions, Love & Loathing & Lulu & Ayano opens with the recruitment of its main character, a soon to be AV star. Well dressed and smooth talking scouts are no rare sight in the streets of Tokyo. Every year approximately 10 000 Japanese women join an official AV-agency, with a multiple number of amateur and accidental stars (girls blissfully unaware of their “starring role”) in the industry. The amount of new production is around 20 000 per year. Lulu & Ayano’s fictive story has been crafted from the interviews of people working in the AV industry.

The film’s protagonist is the shy and naïve but curious Junko, aka Lulu, who finds a new identity as a blue wigged, Sailor Moon uniform wearing daydream for an anime otaku. It’s a part time life taking place in weekends only, with Junko continuing her full time job as a secretary for a normal Japanese company. The other protagonist referred by the title, Ayano, a former gang girl, is more knowledgeable of the harsh reality of the AV world. A somewhat cliché tough girl character, her main role is to comment the industry in somewhat pretentious and semi-narrator style.

Preaching is light, nevertheless. Brief first shock aside, Lulu fully enjoys her new life as a successful adult entertainer. A miserable victim of the dark world she is not. The pains and risks related to the industry are there, but primarily Lulu & Ayano is a film of people working in the industry, rather than of the industry itself. The cute leading actress (Norie Yasui) in her colorful costumes is certainly easy on the eye, which adds an interesting yet no doubt intentional contradiction: some of the methods used to add to the film’s entertainment value are also the ones discussed in the film’s industry analytical screenplay.

Sentimentalism is kept out, unlike in the silly 2001 film Platonic Sex, which was based on the autobiography by Ai Iijima. Despite the lack of shock value, and perhaps partly due to the unknown cast, Sato was given the freedom to shoot the film in a more natural and fitting way. The bare skin on display is not gratuitous but appropriate for the context, and optical censorship that has plagued Japanese cinema in the past decades has been overcome. Still, Sato doesn’t get away entirely clean, and especially Lulu’s mother (Makiko Watanabe of Love Exposure, 2008) is a dull and typical bad mother character – the kind of woman whose daughter you’d expect to become an AV star with no sense of reality.

Lulu & Ayano’s digital HD cinematography looks solid – especially images of Tokyo’s rain water canals are breathtaking. Unlike many other recent Japanese films, the digital look does not stand out very clearly, although it does add some slight and welcome rawness to the visuals. Musical department is restrained until the ending explosion: Virgin Blues is a perfect closing song.

The original title hidden behind the terribly long international name Love & Loathing & Lulu & Ayano is Namae no nai onnatachi, which translates as Nameless Women. 95 % of the women working in the AV-business are kikaku actresses –uncredited and typically underpaid supporting players. Lulu & Ayano, nevertheless, follows taintai actresses – girls who have broke through to fame and receive idol-like treatment. Sato’s somewhat amusing take on the latter is a psychotic fan who starts stalking Lulu in her everyday life.

A ground breaking film Love & Loathing & Lulu & Ayano is not. As a mix of lightweight message and pure entertainment, nicely falling somewhere between marginal and mainstream cinema, it nevertheless works very fluently. The film opened in Japan in September 2010 and will probably find its way to a handful of international film festivals.