Maria YumenoAyumu TokitoYumeko SasakiI.K.U.
I.K.U.
Medium: film
Year: 2000
Writer/director: Shu Lea Cheang
Keywords: SF, explicit sex, boobs, robot girl
Country: Japan
Language: Japanese, English
Actor: Aja, Akira, Miho Ariga, Myuu Aso, Akechi Denki, Emi, Margarette, Mash, Zachery Nataf, Yumeko Sasaki, Ayumu Tokito, Tsousie, Etsuyo Tsuchida, Maria Yumeno
Format: 65 minutes
Url: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0255233/
Website category: J-sleaze
Review date: 31 August 2010
It's a confused film. It was marketed as "a Japanese Sci-Fi Porn Feature", but its producer and director had very different ideas of what that meant. The producer Takashi Asai had thought he was commissioning a traditional Japanese pink film, i.e. a normal movie with a storyline, but also softcore scenes. However what his director wanted was to make a genre-redefining arthouse film, full of hardcore sex.
The two of them fought at the script stage and then again right through production. They'd argue about everything from foreplay and sexual positions to fisting and penis size. Other crew members also objected, with the editor saying, "If it becomes a real porno film, I stop working on it." The cinematographer refused to let himself be included in the on-screen action. The set got raided by the police. On top of all that, they also had problems with the cast. They hired a porn actress, Mai Hoshino, for the lead role, but she disappeared three days before the start of shooting and the director couldn't find anyone to replace her who was both able to act and willing to perform all the sex acts in the script. Since it's an SF film, they made the heroine a shapeshifter and split the part between seven actresses, but even so there was constant renegotiation throughout filming of what they'd be expected to do.
The film's a mess. Admittedly it's sufficiently arty that it premiered at the 2000 Sundance Film Festival, the first porn film they ever selected for competition, but that doesn't mean it's not still a mess.
Firstly, it doesn't work as a narrative. It's too arty and fragmented, with futuristic visual effects everywhere and a plot that's both flimsy and impenetrable. You'll never be more than a few minutes away from a pop-up information screen, digital mosaic or pop-art CGI body cavity shot. The latter will involve a shapeshifting penis thrusting down what might as well be a space-warp tunnel, given that it's being rendered in glossy, plastic-looking CGI and Andy Warhol colours. They should have included a shot where its head split in two and ate a passing Millennium Falcon. You see, our sex-robot heroine can transform her arm into an arm-sized penis, then penetrate customers of either gender.
There is a plot though, which I know because I read about it on wikipedia. Our heroine is a Blade Runner style replicant, known here as an I.K.U. Coder, with the task of collecting orgasm data. There's a cyberpunk rationale for this. Anyway, she has sex with people, then gets seduced and infected with a computer virus before having sex with more people. There's a Dildo Gun. The end. See, I said there was a plot! However to be fair to them, the Blade Runner influence is strong enough that I've seen the film called an unauthorised sequel, while there are also other Phil K. Dick movie references (Total Recall).
Incidentally the dialogue is unsubtitled and swaps at random between bad English and bad Japanese. You're probably thinking that this probably won't matter much and you'll basically be right, but it's still annoying even if you're lucky enough to understand what everyone's saying. English-speakers surprisingly have a better time of it than Japanese-speakers, but both languages are getting tortured by non-native speakers. The director isn't Japanese herself, you see, but a Taiwanese multi-media artist who apparently specialises in net-based installation, social interface and film production.
In other words, as a narrative it's worse than porn. However it's also not even good porn.
Firstly, I was convinced almost until the end that the director was a gay man. The heterosexual sex scenes seem almost disinterested, although the freaky visual overlays don't help, whereas the film comes alive a bit more for its gay segment. There's a man-on-man blowjob, although only briefly, and a couple of drag queens in an orgasmatronic car. This sequence ends with our sex-crazed heroine runs after a rent boy insisting that she wants him and needs him, only to be rejected. Obviously I was wrong and Shu Lea Cheang isn't a gay man, instead being female, but I still find something rather cold about the way she shoots women having sex. I don't know. Maybe I'm talking nonsense. The production clashes can't have helped, but even so I couldn't help noticing scenes like the woman in red light who's being shot to look as androgynous as possible.
The shooting style is experimental. There's one scene that's shot to look as if it takes place in a restaurant's fish tank, from which we see one unlucky fish being taken out, turned into sushi and fed to a customer. If you're a fish-lover, this is a snuff film. If you're trying to have a wank, half the time you'll have fish swimming where you don't want to see them.
The breasts get slowly bigger as the film progresses, so there are some decent boobs towards the end. Entertainingly there's also what must be the smallest penis in porn, although maybe it was just cold on set. Digital mosiacs hide any actual penetration, but at least two scenes struck me as obviously simulated even before I knew about the disagreements and mid-shooting negotiations about what the actresses were and weren't prepared to do. However you do see blow jobs and lots of nudity, while I was mildly amused by the film's roll-call of perversions: schoolgirls' panties, inflatable sex dolls, lesbian bondage, etc. Incidentally the latter is done by lowering a bound woman on a rope into a shocking pink plastic bubble, which looks ten times weirder than it sounds.
"Iku", incidentally, means "to go" and colloquially also "to have an orgasm". Every other language I know of uses "come" for that purpose, but not the Japanese. Don't ask me why.
This is not a film you'd recommend. It doesn't work either as non-porn or as porn. I've no idea why the director thought she needed actresses rather than just porn stars, since there's no dramatic content to speak of even if you understand the dialogue in the first place. However it's completely mad and so shamelessly up itself that it occasionally achieves a deranged level of inspiration, as for instance in the scene where inflatable dolls' limbs get used as phallic symbols. I also admire the way it's so completely in-your-face with its cyberpunk visuals, so you'll have girls in silly anime-coloured wigs and so on. Their visual effects company spent eight months working on this, you know.
The DVD edition also has a multiple choice ending: straight or gay. In this case, I thought the latter felt more honest.