I Am an S+M Writer
Futai no Kisetsu (2000)
Director: Ryuichi Hiroki
Cast: Ren Osagi, Yoko Hoshi, Jun Murakami, William Brian Churchill
Trying to broaden my horizons by watching some Japanese "pinku eiga" (softcore pornographic) films, I rented I Am an S+M Writer (Futai no Kisetsu, 2000) last night and was pleasantly surprised - especially for a genre that comes with more than its share of cultural baggage, commonly being associated with, in the words of critic Matthew Sanderson, "the sight of beautiful Japanese women suffering, and often subsequently enjoying, extreme bouts of sexual abuse at the hands of domineering male antagonists - violent partners, deranged kidnappers, maniacal rapists, and so forth."
To be sure, I Am an S+M Writer - which was based on a novel by Japan's most notorious author of "bound" literature, Oniroki Dan - contains overt erotic content and eyefulls of naked female flesh, but far from being just an exploitation film, this was an artful and humorous meditation on intimacy, marriage and Japanese sexuality. On the surface, it tells the story of the breakup of a marriage between an S&M porno writer (veteran actor Ren Osugi, best known stateside for his outstanding performances in Takeshi Kitano films - he's appeared in six so far, including Sonatine and Hani-Bi - and in Yoji Yamada's The Twilight Samurai) and his beautiful-but-neglected wife Shizuko (AV idol Yoko Hoshi). But it's really an examination between "false" over-intellectualized sexuality (the S&M writer's fetishistic/"perverse" literature which his wife dismisses as nothing more than "erotic nonsense") and "true," natural, physical passion.
Mr. & Mrs. K: Leads Ren Osagi and Yoko Hoshi
As Mr. Kurosaki, a successful writer of sadomasochistic novels, Ren Osagi is so determined to stay on top and be cutting edge in his craft, that he hires models/prostitutes to act out his fantasies in his house with his rope-tying assistant Kawada (Jun Murakami, who I had previously seen play a super-cool reporter in the live-action Cutie Honey). His wife Shizuko feels neglected, to say the least. She is much younger than her husband and drop-dead gorgeous, yet Kurosaki has neglected her, even admitting to his assistant that he hasn't slept with his wife in months. It gets to be too much for Mrs. Kurosaki when she witnesses a bound model being ravaged in her living room. Calling her husband a pervert, she makes him sleep in a separate room from that point on and takes up with a dim-witted blonde American hunk who she meets in her English class, Mac (played by the imaginatively named William Brian Churchill). Shizuko's flirting with a foreign gwailo ticks off not only Kurosaki, but his assistant Kawada, as well. But it isn't long before Shizuko tires of the American and sets her sights on seducing Kawada, the man who is adept at acting out the rope-tying-and-binding fantasies her husband writes about. At first merely curious about her husband's world, she soon finds herself falling in love with Kawada and their spontaneous love-making - which is everything her husband's writing is not. It is unscripted, spur of the moment - and hot!
Kurosaki finds out about his wife's infidelity with his assistant, but instead of becoming angry, he asks Kawada to detail every aspect of their affair so that he may use it as fodder for his novel. Meanwhile, with Kawada off dallying with Shizuko, Kurosaki tries to take over Kawada's rope-binding role with the hired models, to ill effect. Though excited, he is but an amateur at his very own game, unable to translate this titillation to fruition. As one model tells him, "you're a faker." Meaning, he can't walk it the way he talks it. It's still just an intellectual exercise to him and not true passion. One of the great ironies of the film is that his wife takes to S&M with a passion he can only dream of writing about and yet never the twain shall meet. The muse he was looking for was sleeping right next to him in his bed, living under the same roof, and yet he didn't see it.
Ultimately, Shizuko leaves her husband, but not for Mac or Kawada. They are merely studs with no intellectual depth, while her husband is all brains but no mojo. Shizuko has discovered her innermost sexuality and is the winner in the end, while the men are still grasping at straws - or rope bindings, as the case may be. Still, she gives herself to Kawada in a film-ending tryst that I will not soon forget, allowing Kawada one final act of supposed control and mastery, even though he doesn't know it is secretly a kiss-off. I'll never forget this final scene and her last words in the film. Bound and submissive on the bed (as pictured above left), she answers Kawada's query of what to do to her with the words, "Go anal." An act of seeming total submission is actually Shizuko in total control, for nothing is ever as it seems in this film. Roll credits. Wow!
Other than the initial seduction scene between Kawada and Shizuko in a cafe, which is filmed in real time with little dialog and seems to go on forever (easily 10 minutes - I was riding my exercise bike at the time and must have gone 5 miles during this stretch!), there is so much to rave about in this film. Like the great score (tango music put to very effective use, making the procedings play like comedy), the fantastic cinematography (the seaside images reminded me of Takeshi Kitano's Hana-Bi), and a great cast. In a 2004 interview with Midnight Eye, Hiroki cited the influence of John Cassavetes on working with his actors, saying "when we were making the film we spent a lot more time on the performances than for a normal pink film."
But for me the highlight was discovering my new favorite Japanese actress, AV idol Yoko Hoshi, who carries this film.
This Yoko's no Ono!: Yoko Hoshi, undulating
For example, as Kawada describes his sexual liasons with Shizuko to his sensai Mr. Kurosaki, director Hiroki's beautifully shot renditions are given their sexual charge by Yoko Hiroshi's spot-on interpretations. Whether slowly undulating in a bathtub or just sensuously sipping a glass of water while Kawada describes how exquistely Shizuko performed fellatio on him, the effect is...um, highly erotic! Hiroki's technique in rendering these scenes by having his actress sip water or wash or even just slowly undress in her room is inspired and much more arousing than just cutting to the chase with exposed flesh.
Despite photos like this, Yoko Hoshi is a serious actor with an impressive body of work (I'm being serious!)
Yoko Hoshi hasn't done many films, but she should do many more. Searching the Internet I found lots of nudie cutie photos of her, but believe me, she is so much more. I think she's a fine actress and has a face and manner that has yet to be explored.
My exploration of pinku eiga continues. I had read so much about how this naughty-but-nice (no genitalia please - we're Japanese!) film genre had provided a training ground for future "mainstream" auteurs like Hideo Nakata (Ringu) that I wanted to see what all the fuss was about. I also rented Bastoni: The Stick Handlers (2002), a film promising an "intelligent look" into Japan's adult video (AV) industry by first-time director Kazuhiko Nakamura (a former AV assistant director) and Tattooed Flower Vase (Kashin no Irezumi: Ureta Tsubo, 1976) by rope-a-dope veteran Masuru Konuma (Wife To Be Sacrificed), who dedicated his life to Japanese pinku eiga (specializing in S&M), directing 47 films in more than three decades.
But I have to admit that I was disappointed. The former was pretty amusing (even including "simulations" of bukkake-style pop shots! - quite shocking for a mainstream indy release from the folks at tla releasing!) but had a lame, cop-out ending, and the latter - though visually interesting (especially the optical censoring and creative angles employed to shoot around the actors' "naughty bits"), had a jarring narrative style that was very hard to follow. Be that as it may, KIMSTIM (the world cinema company founded by Ian Stimler and Mika Kimoto in 1999) is releasing a lot of his work, and the work of other pinku directors, in an admirable collection of DVD releases under the "Kimstim Collection" imprimatur. I guess I'll check out his other works if only for their great titles - Erotic Diary of an Office Lady, Cloistered Nun: Runa's Confession - plus the fact that Hideo Nakata not only worked on some (Wife To be Sacrified), but even directed a documentary about Konoma-san, Sadistic and Masochistic (which is available only on Kimstim's Wife To Be Sacrificed DVD).
True Blue Ryu: Beyond the Pink
But Ryuichi Hiroki looks like the real deal, a promising auteur who looks ready to follow Nakata's lead in breaking away from his pinku past into mainstream success. In I Am an S+M Writer, he discovered that adding humor was the key to crossover acceptance, telling Midnight Eye, "I was aiming to make something that was like a pink film but that could be shown in mainstream theatres. It was amazingly popular. I really wanted to make a comedy film. I think comedy is really the flipside of serious sex. I wanted to make a film that people wouldn't necessarily approach as a pink film, because of these comedy elements. Most people can't go to pink theatres, for various reasons, so I wanted to do things the other way round - to bring pink film to the people!"
I think he succeeded, and I'm looking foward to checking out his Tokyo Trash Baby (Tokyo Gomi Onna) - his shot-on-digital video look at Japanese consumer society that was released the same day as I Am an S+M Writer - and the much-lauded Vibrator (another film featuring Jun Murakami) next.
Ryuichi Hiroki interview (Midnight Eye)
Ryuichi Hiroki Filmography (IMDB)
AV Idol Yoko Hoshi Nude Pictures
More Yoko Hoshi AV Pix
Yoko Hoshi Pix at Idol Cute
Yoko Hoshi Filmography (IMDB)
Pink Film (Wikipedia)