Nothing to do with Lord Baden-Powell. A scoutman is someone who recruits women for Japanese porn, usually by standing on a busy street and asking perfectly normal passers-by if they'd like to have sex for money.
This isn't a porn film, but instead a detailed look at the various overlapping Japanese sex industries. There's nudity, but not as much as you'd think. Think of it as a cross between a drama and a documentary. It's fictional, but most of its cast really did the jobs they're doing here on-screen and the writer-director comes from an Adult Video background. There's thus no preaching. This is an insider portrait of several distinct but related worlds, some of which are appalling, but the film isn't interested in climbing into a pulpit. It's simply taking us to places where I really, really hope you've never been and showing you what that does to the people who live and work there.
We have two protagonists: Miku Matsumoto and Hideo Nakaizumi. They've eloped together, but Nakaizumi is a skirt-chaser who's more interested in chatting up other women than in finding work to support his girlfriend. Matsumoto is seventeen (yes) and has a bad leg. They're stony broke, to the point where to them a good job opportunity might be standing on streets accosting strangers for purposes that should rightly be of interest to the police. Nakaizumi soon gets involved in the world of scoutmen and seems to like it. Matsumoto though is a serious girl with no interest in anything dodgy, but nonetheless she soon finds herself making the acquaintanceship of Yuka Fujimoto. Fujimoto is a hard-faced beast of a girl with no perceptible human warmth. She starts by making money from Matsumoto and the Chewing Gum Pervert, which doesn't get their relationship off on a good footing but after a while together they're pimping schoolgirls. (That's called enjo kosai and it's a controversial social issue in Japan.)
Don't think for a moment that's the worst it gets, by the way. That's not even the halfway point, although admittedly even for this film there's a unique horror in seeing vapid girls in school uniforms talking about the bags and shoes they're going to sell their bodies to buy.
The film's not sensationalist, though. It's matter-of-fact about all this. Masato Ishioka isn't showing us enjo kosai for its shock value, but simply because it really happens. His film's actually quite vanilla, compared with the freakshow of Japanese perversion you might have been expecting... well, if "vanilla" can include the prostitution of minors and a bit of bondage. It also neither condemns nor glamorises. Some of the ladies in this business are clearly in it because they enjoy it, but there's also the classic "crying during the act" problem (which again you'll really see in Japanese porn) and a violent rape.
The acting is invisible. They don't seem to be acting, which would be because most of them (although not all) are playing themselves. Shiro Shimomoto's the exception, having a proper acting career that goes back to the 1970s even if he's best known for being in lots of pink and V-cinema films, but Yuri Komuro for instance was one of Japan's hottest porn stars until she retired in 1999. The others have hardly any screen credits to speak of, but that doesn't matter. You believe, completely. Yuka Fujimoto is the most striking (and slightly shocking)... I didn't realise that her character was also the underage girl in the interview for the illegal video at the end.
Why would you watch this film? Would I recommend it? I think I admire it, but its bald presentation of an alienating world seems to have made it something of a mirror for its audience's feelings. Looking at other reviews, I get the impression that people have been getting out what they put in. One thought it was romantic! Another found it a bit dull and had wanted to see more sex. Another thinks it's a challenging statement about a subject that attracts any amount of prejudice, overly worthy drama and shrill, ill-informed hysteria. Me, I can see all those points of view. I would however point out that this film played several international film festivals, including Venice and Toronto, was nominated for Best Asian Feature Film at the Singapore one and won Ishioka a Directors' Week Special Jury Award.
Clearly an important film, in its semi-underground way. If nothing else, it's educational.
"Thank goodness, I thought it stank too. I'm still human."