Takahisa ZezeSex Friend NurezakariTetsushi SawaKoji Araki
Sex Friend Nurezakari
Medium: film
Year: 1999
Director: Rei Sakamoto
Writer: Shinji Imaoka, Rei Sakamoto, Takahisa Zeze
Keywords: boobs, low-budget, ghost, baseball
Country: Japan
Language: Japanese
Actor: Miei Hiiragi, Kuniyuki Sakai, Kinako Sato, Tetsushi Sawa, Koji Araki
Format: 65 minutes
Url: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0320446/
Website category: J-sleaze
Review date: 4 March 2011
It's a pink film. Its raison d'etre is to show sex scenes, of which there are four. That's quite a lot in a short film like this. Every couple will copulate, even the mad old geezer and his wife we briefly meet halfway through, although in fairness there's no on-screen action. It's just a bit of flesh, not hardcore porn.
However apart from that, it's really good.
What I liked about it is its dry, almost absurdist sense of character-based humour. You could imagine some of these scenes in a sketch show. It's letting the scriptwriter take the story in whatever strange direction seems like fun, so in the end this turns out to be a pink baseball road ghost sports movie. You might want to read that again. That probably suggests a movie that's overstuffed and rather frenetic, but in fact it's rather dry and often funny. It's got a stronger focus on character than even most regular movies and it's willing to spend quite a lot of time observing them. Surprising stuff happens. The cast react in surprising ways. The scriptwriter pulls yet another weird plot twist out of the bag.
The story begins with Mika and Daisuke having sex. (The imdb page doesn't say which actor is playing which role, so I'm going to be using the characters' names here.) So far, so formulaic. However what's cool about this film's sex scenes is that they're all proper character scenes as well as an opportunity for one-handed applause. There's always an angle on the characters' relationships. On this occasion we don't just see the sex itself but also how Mika and Daisuke behave afterwards, which suddenly turns them into a real couple. Daisuke's a rather negative person who probably stretches Mika's patience just a little whenever they're together, but she's putting up with him for now and she certainly likes the sex.
At this point someone knocks on the door. Daisuke throws on some clothes and goes to see who it is, only for a strange man to invite themselves in, walk into the living room and go to sleep on the floor.
This is funny. However what I liked best is how it's funny. You could ham up this material and go for broad laughs, but instead everyone plays it for real. Even a laugh-out-loud moment like Mika's childishness with the toilet door is done in an understated fashion. It's dry humour. I found myself enjoying everyone's reactions and marvelling at the presumption of this happy-go-lucky chap, called Tsutomu. It soon turns out that technically he's not a stranger, but instead that he and Daisuke went to the same primary school and even played baseball together. Well, that's all right, then. Um.
Soon we're getting to know this trio. Mika and Tsutomu get on pretty well. She tells him about her dissatisfactions with Daisuke, who's unreliable enough for her to have doubts about their long-term future together. She's got an interview for a proper job, but she doesn't see him moving on from his part-time job at the local convenience store. We learn about this and wonder where it's all going (as perhaps do the characters themselves), but it's also interspersed with deadpan comedy like the bit about catchball and the scene where Daisuke shows off his driving skills. Anyway, before long Tsutomu's come up with his most presumptuous notion yet, which Daisuke has already refused when Mika mysteriously decides that it sounds like the right thing to do and bullies him into it. Personally, it wouldn't even have occurred to me to say yes. The guy's taking the piss. I'd have just put the thing in the post.
This is where I stop summarising the plot. Half the fun of this film is in seeing how many random left turns the script can throw at you.
The other half lies in the character work. These people are capable of being both mature and ludicrously childish, often in the same scene. Daisuke's aware that his relationship with Mika isn't everything it could be, for instance, but his side of this includes the notion that Mika's "grumpy". Uh huh. Not a great move, my friend. This is in the same scene as his driving masterclass, by the way.
The acting's not great, but it's adequate. Mika's the weakest, but the only point where she's actually bad is when crying in the lavatory. You wouldn't cast them in a normal film, but they're easily up to the requirements of this kind of deadpan naturalism. I thought they worked and often were even funny. In fairness there are also a few older actors who might perhaps have been in regular movies, but the main characters are all young and surely can't be anything but porn stars. Kinako Sato's the only cast member with any other credits according to imdb and she's definitely an Adult Video actress under the name of Miki Sato. Incidentally the men tend to be prettier than the women and one of them looks more like a porn star than any other man I've ever seen. Mind you, that fits the part he's playing here.
The plot turns out to hang together much better than you'd think, in its odd way. Judged as a ghost story, you could almost call it classical. The bit where they briefly seem to turn into kids is artlessly realised, but it makes its point. It's also worth mentioning that this is a witty, almost sweet Japanese ghost story that's not horror. It's nice to have a change sometimes.
Quite a deceptive film. The only review I've been able to find has called it boring, but I'd call that just an example of the film's pace and style being so understated that they might shoot under your radar if you're not expecting anything but trash. Personally though I'd call it another example of the Japanese tradition of letting a pink director do anything he wants, so long as he includes a few skin scenes. The film also includes no character called Nurezakari, especially not one who's a Sex Friend. Overall, I'd call this film eccentric, surprisingly deft and a good example of what you can do with wit and imagination instead of a budget. You know, some of my biggest surprises in exploring Japanese cinema have come from their sex films.
Silly ending, by the way. I laughed.