It's an interesting follow-up to yesterday's Wonder Boys
, at least.
I assumed this would be dodgy. I was right. It is. However it's pretty tame stuff if you're looking for skin and surprisingly is much more about psychology, relationships and emotional dysfunction than it is about nudity. Come to think of it, are there even any sex scenes? There's brief fellatio (which we can't see), some follow-up coitus (again with the important stuff hidden), a woman masturbating in the bath and the occasional bit of flesh. It's nothing much, really. In terms of pure visuals, it's almost tame. No, it's not what we see that makes this film startling, but instead the characters.
Mind you, the film does begin with a moaning topless woman being tied up for two men, one of whom then embarks upon a nearly gynaecological examination. What they lack in actual pornography, they make up in sleaze.
I think I had misaligned expectations of this film. It's Japanese, it has a dodgy name and it has that opening scene. After the first ten minutes, I was expecting the plot to be about the wife learning to become a dutiful and multi-orgasmic doormat through the medium of mysogynistic and disturbing sex scenes. Any earlier marital disagreements (e.g. free will) would be mere feminist folly, to be later recanted. (Note to self: watch more highbrow movies.) The oddest part of that opening is the bit in which Ren Osugi's respectable wife Yoko Hoshi comes home to find her husband involved in intimate examination of Bondage Slut, only to draw the curtains so the neighbours can't see and curtly walk out again. We'd previously seen her in very proper Japanese attire, returning from a temple.
Hoshi will make Osugi regret this over dinner, with that chilly politeness that's always bad news in a wife. Calling him a pervert, she decides that from then on they'll be sleeping in different rooms.
Thereafter, the movie turns into an examination of the marital problems and oddities of Hoshi and Osugi. Both are ambiguous, strange people who go through a good deal of character development in the film. Osugi starts out as a repellently traditional Japanese husband, incapable of apologising to his wife and liable to regard banging on her bedroom door as the normal way to initiate a conversation. He's peremptory and treats her like an inferior. Note also his chauvinism in one scene with his hired sluts (Jun Murakami and Eri Yamazaki), in which he starts grilling the man when he wants information about female sexual organs and ignoring the woman when she tries to answer. However that said, his worst crime is arguably lack of diplomacy. He's not being unfaithful to his wife. He's employing Murakami and Yamazaki exclusively to perform deviant acts on each other, as inspiration for his latest book. He just watches and writes.
You might be thinking he sounds a bit messed up. You'd be right. He grows and unfolds over the course of the film and stops being a bastard, but this is a man with problems.
Hoshi on the other hand, we never fully know. She ends up in some fairly extreme places, but we never know exactly where she started out. However it seems clear that she's travelled a long way, both from what Osugi says about how she used to be in bed and from the simple fact that we first see her in that ultra-traditional Japanese garb and setting. One of the first things she does after that row with Osugi is to find a male American friend with the physique of a gay porn star, for instance. One of the saddest things in the film comes at the end. "I wanted to become your ideal woman."
This film doesn't end happily, by the way. It's not grand guignol tragedy, but it's a million miles away from the trite, misogynistic trash I'd been assuming earlier.
The script's based on a novel by Japan's most celebrated S&M fetish author, Oniroku Dan. There seems to be a suggestion that his work often had an autobiographical element, while Nikkatsu adapted many of his books into movies in the early 1970s. Furthermore the director is Ryuichi Hiroki, who admittedly has made more than a few pinku movies himself, but has also achieved mainstream international attention with the likes of Vibrator and It's Only Talk. Incidentally his other 2000 movie was Tokyo Trash Baby
, which for anyone who missed my earlier review isn't the sleaze-fest it sounds like and is instead a slow but interesting character piece and a low-budget indie experiment in digital cinema.
Meanwhile the cast appear to be proper actors, except for the American (William Brian Churchill), who doesn't appear to have acted in anything else ever. Ren Osugi must be one of the hardest-working actors in Japan, with 241 titles cited to date on imdb and sixteen just in 2000, including almost everything released that year by Takeshi Miike and Kitano Takashi, plus Uzumaki
, Space Travelers
and Crazy Lips
. I really hope he likes freaky films, because if he doesn't then it's hard to imagine him taking pleasure out of making some of that lot. Today's film is hardly Disney, for starters. Here he's giving a proper performance, by the way. He's not just showing up for the pay cheque, but going the full distance in portraying his messed-up character. Everyone's good, in fact, if you don't mind the glitch of Hoshi's accent when speaking English.
Is it fun? No, although there's a funny and eye-popping scene in the middle where Osugi keeps doing a Jekyll and Hyde between author and husband. It's a weird film and occasionally a slightly cruel, disturbing or sad one. However the ending feels about right to me and I think I'd respect it more if I ever found myself rewatching it. This is uncomfortable subject matter and it's not easy to give it a level-headed evaluation on first exposure. Well, it wasn't for me, anyway.
Is it sexy? Yes, it is. Visually it's a little off-putting, but the story and the characters' personal journeys are so steeped in sleaze and worrying detail that the film packs quite a sexual charge. It's certainly outdoing mere porn. However at the same time, the film's tone and focus on character make this in no way any kind of escapist sex fantasy. It's a bit shocking. It's got far more integrity than I thought it would. It's also going to bore a hell of a lot of people, unless they're prepared for something considerably artier and more downbeat than you'd expect of a one-line description. I'd hesitate a long, long time before recommending it, but it's far from worthless. I don't know if I could say I enjoyed this film, but I think I'll be watching more from Ryuichi Hiroki.