Directed by: Hitoshi Matsumoto
Released on: Sundance Film Festival 2014 | Forthcoming U.S. release from Drafthouse Films
Grade: 3 out of 5 meatballs
Reviewed by: John Esther
Once upon a time, a mild-mannered man named Takafumi (Nao Omori) needed some sexual excitement in his life. His wife was in a coma, so sexual relations in the biblical sense may not have been the most decent thing for him to do.
Thinking, or feeling, he should just have his sexual needs fulfilled by sadistic, random encounters instead, Takafumi enters into a year long contract where dominatrices will appear unexpectedly to humiliate and hurt him until his head comic(book)ally swells — thus indicating sexual gratification. (It would have been funnier, more subversive and more apropos with the film's conceits if the filmmakers had done that with Takafumi's crotch area instead.)
Unfortunately for Takafumi, and soon others, these sadistic encounters become increasingly intrusive, degrading and violent. Random encounters move from the public to private sphere — threatening Takafumi's workplace and home. Soon, Takafumi wants out of the contract, but getting out of the contract has never been an option. But does he really want out? The upping of the sexual ante leads to a bigger payoff.
Certainly not for everybody's viewing pleasures (but what film is?), the latest film from writer-director Hitoshi Matusmoto (Big Man Japan) is a surreal, absurd tale of an everyman combating his sexual desires. The more dangerous the abuse and sex become, the more Takafumi wants it to stop. But the danger is just too erotic to stop. The more the women come after this department store salesman, the more explosions, metaphorically and literally, will be necessary.
Reflecting the absurdity of Takafumi's sexual-cinematic adventure is a metanarrative involving a film ratings board (or is it the film crew?) consisting of three men and one woman watching Takafumi's story. Their bewildering comments about what the viewer (them and us) has seen, suspects, and speculates add a layer of humor and intelligence to the primary narrative. Their responses to the lack of continuity or reality in the film are amusing, but what is especially amusing is that the male board members are less comfortable with the film's sexual tropes than the female board member — in particular the first scene with the Gobble Queen (Hairi Katagiri), a metaphor for the all-consuming vagina; or, perhaps, vagina dentata run afoul.
When a film goes for this level of absurdity and humor, however, it is bound to have a few exasperating, or very unfunny, scenes, such as the prolonged ordeal between Saliva Queen (Naomi Watanabe) and Takafumi — prancing and oral spitting is so limiting. Plus the casting of Lindsay Hayward, AKA professional wrestler Isis the Amazon, as CEO of the bondage company is hardly effective. Casting a six-foot nine-inch blonde American woman in a Japanese film may have added more leverage to the film's satire of petite bourgeois sexual desire — or theory of desire, notably in the relation with the constructions of desire in Occidental imagery — had Hayward been less cartoonish, or a better actor, than her professional wrestling persona.
But those are mere drawbacks to one fun film to watch. Director of photography Kazushige Tanaka, costume designer Satoe Araki and composer Hidekazu Sakamoto wonderfully abet the film's atmosphere of sex, violence, dread, desire, humor and whimsy.