Love Cinema [long]

M Arnold ma_iku
Wed Jul 3 08:03:32 EDT 2002

I hope everyone is enjoying the rainy season.  I had a few spare minutes so
I thought I'd share some thoughts about movies I've seen recently.

On Friday two weeks ago I went to the late showing of Zeze Takahisa's new
Tokyo (X) Erotica in Shibuya.  I'm a little embarrassed to admit that after
only enjoying Dog Star a little, it was nice to see Zeze back doing softcore
porn.  The film is fairly political, with a story that takes several hints
from the Aum subway gassing and, if I remember correctly, the real-life
murder of a secretary/prostitute a few years back.  It has the typically
disjointed characters living in mixed-up times, pondering life and death in
between lovemaking sessions... the motto of the film is "Which is longer,
the time before you're born or the time after you die?"  There are a few
main couple[ing]s in the film and they each get a visit by the God of Death,
sometimes dressed in a bunny rabbit costume, who at one point gives a sort
of "answer to life" and later just makes fun of it all.  In an interesting
turn of events Zeze also included a series of short documentary interviews
with cast members and people on the street, asking what they think about
their lives and death and so forth.  The film pamphlet even includes a long
interview between the director and Mori Tatsuya where they talk about film
and things political.  Zeze says that he cried in two places watching A2.

Aside from a few nude photos of star Sasaki Yumeka, there's not much written
about sex in the pamphlet.  This surprises me; you can't always talk about
sex scenes only in terms of  "metaphor" or politics, especially in a genre
that exists for the spectacle of skin it puts on the screen.  Where is there
a more critical discussion of the way sex itself is shown in these sex
films?  Does Japan have anyone like Linda Williams?  The film is only
playing at the artsy Euro Space in Shibuya right now, but according to the
pamphlet it opened in "Pink Film Specialty Theaters" in September of 2001.
I've always wondered what it would be like to visit one of those theaters to
see a film like Tokyo Erotica, but when I mention that to friends they tell
me that the theaters are full of strange men in trench coats who try to
sneak over and give you a free massage.

Roughly 30 or 40 people came to the showing I attended, mostly young-ish to
middle aged men but there were several women present as well.  To my great
surprise the entire film was also subtitled in English.  I'd heard nothing
about subtitled screenings.  Perhaps this was a print used for foreign film
festivals?  Did they use a subbed print for the porno theater screenings
too?  I decided to check with one of the theater employees when I walked
out, but when I asked her she gave me a blank look.  I tried again, stating
that the print I just saw had been subbed in English and asking if all of
the showings were like that, and she said, "It was subbed in English?  I
didn't know that."  She turned to her coworker: "Did you know that Tokyo
Erotica is being shown with English subtitles?"  "I had no idea!"  Oh well.
I thanked her anyway and left.

The next afternoon I returned to see Manda Kunitoshi's Unloved.  This time I
had a free pass, but when I handed it to the young woman at the counter (the
same one I had spoken to the night before), she gave me another blank look.
"I've never seen anything like this.  What is it?"  "Isn't it a ticket?"  It
actually looked just like a Euro Space ticket, and that's exactly what it
was, but I guess something didn't quite click for her.  Eventually though
she did let me in.

Unloved was interesting as well.  The story is about a thirty-something
woman with little ambition in life and the relationships (power
relationships) she enters into with two men, one a slightly older and rather
successful businessman, and the other a young... well, loser.  Manda
co-wrote the script with his wife (?) Tamami, and they somehow kept it from
slipping into a TV drama style of sappy romance but still built up a lot of
tension between the characters.  The film pamphlet includes the text (about
15 pages) of the short story Aisarezaru Mono, which was written by the two
Mandas and used as the basis for the script.  The director took some
inspiration from the Japanese title of Clint Eastwood's "The Unforgiven"--a
movie it seems most of the 90s Japanese directors love--but his producer
(Sento--Unloved is J Movie Wars 5) asked him to change to the English title
"Unloved" for the film.  I've only skimmed it, but the short story ends
differently from the film and there's a short statement about that at the
end of the text.  The differences between the film and the story may have to
do with the differences between men and women, or they may have to do with
the differences between Kunitoshi and Tamami as individuals, but the short
story is "just a story" and does not necessarily tell the correct way to
read the film, etc.  ... all of which seems to be pretty self-evident

Back to porno, on the way home from Tokyo that day I wandered into Aoyama
Book Center and bought the DVD for OL no Aijiru Love Juice.  The film is
surprisingly good.  It might be a bit excessive to say that a pink movie
with a competent female protagonist and a boyfriend who's actually nice is
groundbreaking, even in Japan, but it did approach the situation with much
more care than I'd seen in a pink film before.  In contrast to Zeze's
style--sex movies that are "really" about politics [nudge-nudge]--this is a
sex movie that was "really" about sex.  The film's atmosphere was stunted by
the technical state of the movie itself though.  It's fascinating to see the
(still) shockingly poor production qualities of the pink film genre.  If
Zeze and other pink directors are getting screenings at Euro Space and DVD
releases through Uplink, can't they afford better?  Heck, Tokyo Erotica used
digital cameras with (some) synched-sound recording, but if the budget is
this cheap anyway couldn't pink directors just do the editing on a PC at
home?  It would look much better...

I was also able to see Yukisada Isao's Zeitaku na Hone on video recently.
This one was a lot less interesting and a lot kinkier than I expected.  Was
Yukisada consciously trying to reference Deep Throat?  Cool Shintani-san
(Nagase) drifted back and forth like a phantom between the bed of young
prostitute Miyako and the dirty kitchen floor of her girl/friend Sakiko to
the delight and then despair of all... it seemed to be the sort of thing you
'd find serialized in Seventeen Magazine.  I'm starting to wonder if dreamy
stories about sexuality and young adults is one of Yukisada's specialties,
but I doubt I'll be bothered to check next time.

Has there been anything else interesting in the theaters recently?

Michael Arnold

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