It starts appallingly. Everything about it was screaming "pointless dull shallow rubbish". Eventually, though, it improved.
It's a Japanese pink film starring Mai Hanano, who I wouldn't advise googling at work. She's the young, buxom manager of a public bath that's in financial difficulties. Oh dear. The plot almost writes itself, doesn't it? Do I need to add that eventually she's advertising her Bikini Special Service? The first sex scene starts at the two-minute mark and grinds on mercilessly with no meaningful content at all, shot like softcore pornography and boring the audience senseless. Admittedly it segues into a startling phone call and some (gasp) dialogue, but that wasn't enough to stop my expectations drilling into the ground and plunging towards the earth's core.
The film then gets worse. Mai Hanano has an employee who's introduced with a reaction that would have been over the top on Children's BBC. He's a fawning troll. (That's a figure of speech; no rubber costumes.) Worse still, the film thinks it's funny for the troll to walk around the baths when female customers are present, in order to ogle them. (The camera's also doing the same thing, obviously.) What I particularly minded about this wasn't the fact that he's a overacting hateful git, but instead the customers' unconvincing reactions. You'd expect deafening screams and a storm of thrown objects, probably sharp ones. However the scene is merely one of girls taking their clothes off in a pink film, so instead they just give him a look and sit there in a lumpen, cow-like fashion.
I wanted him dead, with an accommodating definition of "him". The troll, the scriptwriter, the director...
The film then introduces a student. He wears glasses, reads as he walks along and trips up in the street. This appeared to be a misfired attempt at comedy.
After this, the film improved. Admittedly it does so slowly and a naive observer might think there was little room to go in any other direction, but in the end it's such a marked improvement as to require theories. My preferred explanation is that it's deliberate deconstruction. The director's choosing to introduce his story and characters as if this were shallow pornography with the characterisation of a used teabag. This he achieves. However, after doing that, he's then elevating this disastrous beginning into something more intelligent and three-dimensional, thus challenging the audience's assumptions. It's like the punchline of a joke. He's turning porn into a meaningful film.
The other possibility is that none of this was deliberate and that our director simply has a genius for getting off on the wrong foot, but I like my first theory better.
The first bit I liked was Hanano's non-reaction to casual male nudity. That was amusing, but just a throwaway moment.
The second bit I liked was some unexpected characterisation. Hanano's masturbating nude after all the customers have gone home. You know, as you do. Plenty of soap suds for the camera. The troll sneaks up to spy on her (as expected), then puts his hands down his pants and gets out a tissue (eh?). Then, the next day, Hanano finds her honour being defended by the annoying student, who starts a fight. (He's not even any good at fighting.) To my surprise, this student turned out not to be annoying after all. He's quite sweet. What transpires between him and Hanano is far more likeable and realistic than I'd expected. It ends in a sex scene, naturally, but even that's violating the softcore formulae by being a fairly convincing look at what would happen when this hesitant male virgin finds himself getting his end away. It's not just tame porn. It's a character scene.
After that, the next day's sandwich board scene made me smile and I gave up all thoughts of abandoning the film and watching Jan Svankmajer instead.
Girl With Bruise fits my theory too. When we first meet her, she's just Girl With Bruise. No explanation. Her only motivation appears to be "have sex with strange men". She's a porn type, in other words, and as with everything else in this film, she's being introduced in a manner that makes her look as uninteresting as possible. However it turns out that she's in an abusive relationship, with a man who'll rape her and then immediately afterwards say, "Hurry up and make me some food." She'll end up having a discussion with the student in which she questions her reasons for staying with this anti-boyfriend. This is not a lightweight story element.
Even the sex ends up causing plot complications. People put emotional weight into their relationships and we're left wondering what will happen when one character gets back together with an old flame.
The performances average out as "adequate". The girls aren't good. They're porn stars, not RADA graduates. They're not actually embarrassing themselves, but they're mechanical and uninspired. The troll is probably the most likeable character, once one's grown accustomed to his foibles. He's played by an elderly actor, after all, so at least the guy's got experience.
Would I recommend this film? Goodness me, no. That steady improvement is from a low starting point and it takes a while even to make it up to "maybe I'll keep watching after all". However time and again, I kept on liking it more than I had fifteen minutes earlier. The Bikini Special Service doesn't go where I'd assumed was inevitable, while the characters turn out to be human instead of porn types. In the end, I almost appreciated it... and the final scene made me laugh. That bit was sweet. This film has lots of anti-charm, but there's charm in there too.