Body Drop Asphalt

Aaron Gerow gerow at
Wed Jan 9 20:27:35 EST 2002

>Has anyone seen...
>> Body Drop Asphalt by Wada Junko :

Here's my Daily Yomiuri review:

Title: Body Drop Asphalt
Directed by Junko Wada
Starring:  Sayuri Oyamada, Makoto Ogi, Yoji Tanaka, Yuichi Kishino
Rating: ***
	Japanese culture in the 1980s was ruled by something called the "shojo." 
 The word in Japanese simply refers to preadolescent girls, but when 
frilly dresses (Pink House), cute cartoon characters (Hello Kitty), and 
falsely childish idol singers (Seiko Matsuda) came to dominate popular 
culture--such that even adult women decked out their rooms in pink lace 
and stuffed animals--it became a social phenomenon.
	One culture critic claimed the shojo was the symbol of modern Japan, 
embodying its contradictory aspects.  The desire of grown ladies to act 
like children evinced both a reproduction of the low social position of 
women and a refusal to accept the boring life of marriage and 
house-keeping.  Shojo were the ultimate consumer, but they also 
resolutely closed themselves off from the world in a fantasy realm of 
a-sexual cuteness.
	Today is now the era of the ganguro ko-gals (those girls with blond hair 
and darkly tanned faces), but Kitty-chan still rakes in millions and 
people closing themselves up in a fantasy world has become a society-wide 
headache.  For better or for worse, the shojo is still rearing her ugly 
(cute?) head.
	The work of young women filmmakers of the 1990s prove that. From Naomi 
Kawase to Keiko Utagawa, the problem of the shojo self trying to reach 
out to others has appeared in one form or another in many films.
	Take for example, Junko Wada's Peach Baby Oil (1995), an experimental 
film which won the top prize at the Image Forum Festival in 1995.  
Basically a series of images of a naked woman closed up in a bare room, 
the incessantly repetitive and rhythmic narration, seductively intoned by 
a childishly pouting voice, constantly worries about leaving this 
womb-like space and entering the outside world. The film is both an 
autoerotic celebration of the shojo world and a critical expression of 
the desire to escape from it.
	Wada's first feature-length video work, Body Drop Asphalt, which was 
commissioned by the Aichi Arts Center, carries on these issues.  The 
beginning actually recalls her previous work, as a young women, Eri 
Manaka (Sayuri Oyamada), rhythmically voices her worries: about being 
alone, about being unneeded, about not wanting to have contact with 
others, about making her bedroom a paradise for herself alone.
	Where Body Drop Asphalt parts from Wada's previous work is in its 
exploration of narrative.  To create a perfect world which will erase her 
real self, Eri sits down and writes a cotton-candyish romance novel, Ice 
Cream Love, which after publication unexpectedly propels her to stardom.
	She is now eminently fashionable and adored by all the right people, but 
this effort to fashion her own life into the perfect drama doesn't always 
work.  Not only do her attempts at romance fail rather comically, her own 
characters begin invading her world, and anything she imagines--including 
an invasion of cockroaches--soon becomes reality.  Such is the price, it 
seems, of living a dream creation.
	Given the kitschiness of Eri's fantasy world, Wada on the one hand seems 
to be giving us a rather conventional call for the self--and the 
artist--to step out and live reality with others.  Yet on the other, she 
makes Rie (Makoto Ogi), the novel's heroine, a mirror image of  Eri (E-ri 
and Ri-e), one who is important for Eri to recognize and accept herself.
	Wada thus takes a typically ambivalent stance towards Eri's efforts to 
shut herself away from the world.  While Eri's melodramatic creations can 
be laughable, Body Drop Asphalt, with its pop music rhythms, Richard 
Lester-like stylishness, cameos by musicians and filmmakers (Katsu Kanai 
as God!), and quotes from a myriad of genres, has a pop art sensibility 
that loves as much as it ridicules this mass cultural mayhem.
	This is often fun, and Wada has proven she has more than enough talent 
to move beyond experimental cinema.  Body Drop Asphalt, however, while 
always trying to prove our--and Eri's expectations--wrong, tries to do 
too much as it wildly shifts mood from experimental to musical to 
melodrama to . . . who knows what?
	Wada's trip is a bit too dizzying a ride. But we look forward to her 
next, less rocky adventure out of her shojo room.

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