It's the latest Sada Abe movie and a pink film starring Yuma Asami. I was expecting a train wreck. In fairness it's far better than I'd expected, but I'd still recommend steering clear.
Firstly, Sada Abe. For those who might not have read my earlier reviews, Sada Abe caused a sensation in 1936 by erotically asphyxiating her lover and cutting off his genitals, which she later attempted to use for self-pleasure. She did all this out of love. Understandably people still haven't forgotten her today, which means today that there are any number of books, movies, etc. based on her life. This is the fifth I've seen to date and I haven't done them all yet. If you're wondering which to watch, that would be Nagisa Oshima's terrifying In the Realm of the Senses
My problem with Yuma Asami as Sada Abe was that it sounded like the world's worst miscasting. Asami has always come across to me as a slightly blancmange-like girl whose most prominent feature is her boobs. Admittedly she seems nice and she's actually very well suited to light nonsense like Shimokita Glory Days
, but never for a millisecond have I got the impression of either steel nor passion. To be honest, I think she's a bit too vanilla even to be particularly sexy, although the popularity of her porn films suggests that there are plenty of lonely men who'd disagree.
To my surprise though, as Sada Abe she's not that bad. She's taking it seriously and she's always at least okay in the role. This wildly exceeded my expectations. She's actually acting! This would be a terrifying role for any actress, but Asami does a passable job and, within her limitations, might even be said to have done well.
Unfortunately that's the limit. She does pretty well. She's trying her best. That's it. At the end of the day, she's not a natural Sada Abe and in particular she's not scary. You might perhaps get slightly unnerved when she's fondling knives, but I'm afraid to say I found this movie a bit dull. Neither Asami nor Nobuyuki Matsuda (as Kichizo Ishida) particularly set the material alight, which is saying quite a lot when you're talking about Sada Abe. They're perfectly okay and doing a respectful job, but I didn't care. I didn't notice any chemistry between them and they certainly aren't electrifying the audience.
The movie's other problem is that it doesn't have an angle. All the others I've seen did. A Woman Called Sada Abe
(1975) was the first of them but still has an angle, having a broader scope than Oshima's film and taking the story to some surprising places in its final act. In the Realm of the Senses
(1976) is a masterpiece, recreating the Abe-Ishida relationship with frightening intensity and showing unsimulated sex. Sada (1998)
has no nudity (eh?) and a Carry On tone that I hated, but it's also the most complete depiction yet of Sada's entire life, rather than just the famous bits. Johnen: Love of Sada
(2008) is arty experimental theatre. This film though just feels as if they were casting around for ideas for the next Yuma Asami pink film. "Let's do Sada Abe!" "Great idea!" There's nothing here we haven't seen before and it's not nearly well executed enough to make up for this.
The film's sincere, though. I can't deny that. It looks and sounds right and everyone's clearly dedicated to the job of making the best possible Sada Abe film they can. The director's female and the presentation is playing it dead straight, except perhaps for the slightly silly-looking ropes tying Yuma Asami at the beginning. She's not exactly Hannibal Lecter, is she? Well, maybe it's historically accurate. Anyway, the deliberate plainness of the sets and cinematography does a surprisingly good job of evoking the 1930s, arguably better than a lot of mainstream non-pink Japanese releases. The lighting is good. They've cast Shun Sugata as Officer Urakawa, who's a proper actor with a long career and you'll have seen him in Kill Bill and Ichi the Killer. (He has form for appearing in more lowbrow films though, having also been in the likes of Tomie: Replay
, Tokyo Gore Police
, Kekko Kamen 3
and amusingly even Johnen: Love of Sada
If nothing else, not going for laughs and not taking bizarre liberties with the source material (i.e. a person's real life) in that respect puts this film ahead of half of its predecessors.
As for the ending, I wasn't happy with the implication that Asami's Sada might not have deliberately killed Ishida. However that might be unreliable narration and I liked the final shot, in which they capture the creepiest aspect of the whole Sada Abe story... the fact that she was smiling. Asami gives a good smile there. I'll forgive a lot for that. This isn't a strong film and it'll soon fade and be forgotten, but its final shot is worth remembering.
Overall, far classier than you'd expect of a Yuma Asami pink film. Midnight Angel
was more entertaining, but at least this is a sincere, well-intentioned proper film in which the sex scenes feel natural and part of the story. (Ninja She-Devil
, I'm looking at you.) It doesn't even particularly feel pornographic, although it would be wrong to deny that by the end you'll have spent a lot of time looking at Asami's boobs. It's sort of admirable. It's just a bit dull and not even trying to bring any inspiration to its source material, that's all. You might perhaps think it impossible to make a boring Sada Abe film, but that's what this is.