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Milk the Maid: Baby Angel or Cynic?
Mototsugu Watanabe is a popular director of Pink Film. His film Dirty Mindfreaks (2013) won him both Best Director and Best Film at the Pink Film Award ceremony this year, which covered the year 2013, the same year that his Milk the Maid was released. He is known for a broadly comic, farcical style which he displays in such films as Ogenki Clinic (1988) and Whore Angels (2000). Milk the Maid has the same artificial and fantastical plotting and acting styles that I've seen in his other films. Yet after an hour's worth of sex and silliness, it concludes with an off-putting earnestness-- a maudlin attempt to tug the heart-strings, and to impart an uplifting message. Are we supposed to take this intentionally artificial story at face value, or is it intended to be ironic?
Milk the Maid opens with a tango between two disembodied hands, which hints at a more self-consciously artsy directorial style than is displayed in the rest of the film. There is some interesting use of flash-back towards the film's end. But otherwise, rather than indulging in the experimental filmmaking styles that are sometimes seen in the independent Pink Film genre, Watanabe is content to tell his humorous fable in a straight-forward manner. The obligatory Pink Film sex scenes are handled nicely, as tastelessly as one could hope for within the confines of soft-core, and they don't interfere with the plot. Indeed, they sometimes actually advance it.
Except for a bit of Chopin in a beach scene, a good deal of the soundtrack lends a Vaudevillian atmosphere to the film with silly sound effects: police whistles, train whistles, etc. The cartoonish over-acting that is on display in other Watanabe's films that I've seen is also present here. But either this signature performing style is slightly down-played in this film, or I'm just getting used to it. Lead actress Tia is very pretty but too artificial to my tastes. Besides a plastic, Barbie-doll physical presence, in the role of "baby angel" Milk the maid, she is just too cutesy-sweety saccharine. The storyline does provide her an excuse for behaving in a non-human manner, but still, too much of it gets on one's nerves. Ayum in the role of the gruff, equally exaggerated character Miki was more to my liking. But my favorite of the three leading ladies in the film was Mirei Yokoyama in the role of the wife/step-mother Ruriko. She brought enough reality and maturity to the role to give her character some relative emotional depth.
Grousing aside, watching this bubbly, comic little film was an enjoyable way to spend an hour. I have to admit that towards the end I did feel a little moved by the apparently sincere messages of self-sacrifice and devotion. However the cynic in me still couldn't shake the feeling that Watanabe was just pulling my leg...
Enjoyable Pinkie Fluff from Yôjirô Takita
This is one of Yôjirô Takita's last films in the softcore genre before he went mainstream, a move which eventually led to his winning the US Academy Award in 2009 for the film Departures. Takita started out at Kan Mukai's Shishi Productions, an independent studio which sometimes had its Pink films released through Nikkatsu, and so can be considered both (indie) Pink films and (big studio) Roman Pornos. This film, however, appears to be a true, Nikkatsu-produced Roman Porno, though one of their later, lower-budget efforts, and not up to the quality of the classic Roman Pornos.
In spite of the obvious budgetary constraints, this is a delightfully silly little Pink fantasy/comedy, and a good introduction to the genre for the uninitiated. In Kozue Tanaka, Takita has a beautiful model for a star who is capable enough an actress to make her sort-of-double-role believable. Co-star Kaori Sugita is also very pleasant to look at. Lead actor, Yukijirô Hotaru, as the Private Investigator, is more restrained than he is in the similar role in the "Groper Train" series.
Screenwriter Isao Takagi, who worked with Takita on some of his better-known entries in the "Groper Train" series, gives us a story completely lacking in the S&M and misogyny that sometimes gives these films a bad reputation. Instead of shock value, he holds the audience's attention with whimsical flights of pseudo sci-fi fantasy, and enough twists and turns in the plot to cause some surprises, and intentional and amusing confusion. Takita's typically skillful direction, along with some inventive cinematography and set design, the lovely starlets, and interesting sex scenes make this an enjoyable, if minor production in its genre.
Namae no nai onna-tachi (2010)
Satô lite; enjoyable, but "safe"
This is a mainstream film from celebrated Pink film director Hisayasu Satô. Predictably-- and unfortunately, for his fans-- his move to the mainstream has taken a lot of the edginess off his style. With the extreme and shocking subject matter of his early work, combined with a strong style, thematic depth, and obvious intelligence, Satô was one of the most exciting directors working in Pink film in the '80s and '90s. The general consensus then was that he was "too good" for that low-budget, independent, erotic film genre.
This film deals with the hardcore Adult Video industry, in which Satô worked for a time, though he is known best for work in the softcore Pink industry. But in spite of a couple nude and sex scenes, and one hilarious, but too-brief taste of his Grand Guignolesque "splatter" roots, this film feels "safe". He doesn't portray AV as exceedingly sleazy, but there is some implied criticism of the industry. Given his own work in the field, and the gleeful bouts of gore, violence and perversion in which Satô indulged in his early Pink glory days, this seems surprising. For example we are supposed to be shocked that Lulu has been hired to perform in a rape scene, yet a survey of Satô's own filmography will show multiple rapes, mutilations, bestiality, autocannibalism... you name it...
The cast, from the major roles to the minor, is quite good. Norie Yasui is very cute, and competently carries the split-personality lead role-- the withdrawn Junko, and the extroverted, bubbly "Lulu". "Lulu" is annoyingly overly-saccharine, but then, she's supposed to be that way. And both characters-- Lulu and Junko-- grow and mature during the course of the film. Makiko Watanabe stands out as Junko's over-sexed mother. I also enjoyed Ini Kusano as Lulu's overweight, obsessed, stalker fan. His character is a darkly humorous reflection of some of the horrifying sexual predators to be seen in Satô's earlier work.
Many of Satô's most common themes are at play here-- urban alienation, isolation, obsessions, suicide, examinations of individual identity and interpersonal relationships, the dehumanizing, gazing eye of the camera, and all that other fun stuff-- but without the extremes of sex, violence, gore, and general insanity that make his earlier work such an exhilarating, if unsettling viewing experience. Some of the shots in this film, such as an isolated individual in the midst of a teeming Tokyo street scene, could have come right out of some of his best Pink work. But in comparison with the take-no-prisoners mayhem of Satô's earlier work, this one seems tame.
This is a decent, if not spectacular film, and it held my attention from beginning to end. I recommend it highly for any fan of Satô's work, as a look at what the infant terrible of '80s Pink is up to these days, and I recommend it moderately for anyone else interested in contemporary Japanese cinema.
A lesser effort from Wakamatsu
With a title apparently inspired by the 1950s American classic, Rebel Without a Cause, we have here a story of adolescent angst from another country and another decade: late 1960s Japan, Pink film-style, from Pink film maestro Kôji Wakamatsu.
Japanese critics appear to hold the film in high regard, since it is placed at position #146 on Kinema Junpo's 2009 list of Top 200 Japanese Films of All Time, right after Go, Go, Second Time Virgin (1969), another one of no fewer than eleven films directed by Wakamatsu in 1969. (Japanese Movie Database lists this film as a 1970 release, but Japanese Cinema Database gives it a release date of December 31, 1969.) Cultural and social intricacies are bound to elude me, but I am still surprised to see this film receiving such mainstream approval. It does have some of the touches that make Wakamatsu an interesting director, but the screenplay doesn't have the depth of feeling or leave a lasting impression as does Go, Go, Second Time Virgin.
The credits on the film list the screenwriter as "Izuru Deguchi", which is the pen-name that Masao Adachi often used when writing for Wakamatsu, sometimes with collaborators like Kazuo 'Gaira' Komizu. However, the Japanese Movie Database, as well as the English subtitles in the print of the film I saw, credit Toshitaka Sakabe for the screenplay. Sakabe is also listed in cast in some sources, and the similarity to the name "Toshimasa Sakaguchi", who played Matsumoto leads me to suspect that this actor was the screenwriter. In any case, this actor/writer seems to have participated in only this one film in his career.
Poppo and Tsukio in Go, Go, Second Time Virgin are genuinely abandoned by their families and society, and in truly desperate situations, but the ennui and anger of the three young men in Violence Without a Cause come across more as arrogance and feelings of entitlement. For example, instead of engaging in a little self-criticism to understand why they have no girlfriends, the three main characters simply blame women in general, and then attack them. Even if they are outsiders in Tokyo, they are there of their own choice. And after all the abuse they inflict on others throughout the film, the excuse they offer-- that society has mistreated them-- only feels like self-indulgence, self-pity, and phony. It's hard to tell here whether Wakamatsu is criticising his characters or whether he really believes they are victims. (Wakamatsu himself was from the rural North and must have felt as alienated when he first came to Tokyo as the three main characters.) Either way, it's not as satisfying or meaningful a feeling as that produced by Go, Go.
Wakamatsu's usual cinéma vérité-inspired style gives us some interesting looks at Japan in 1969-- Shinjuku station, and various Tokyo streets and student gatherings as they were at the time. Some of the film is shot guerilla-style, with the performers apparently asking random girls on the street to go out with them. This all adds some documentary interest to the film. It's also interesting to hear the young men using the term "pinku eiga" to describe the softcore films they view, and the genre to which this film belongs. The older term, "eroduction" was used in Donald Richie's contemporary essay on the genre, and was used by Peter Cowie, in his two "World Filmography" books covering 1967 and 1968, printed in 1977.
This being a Pink film, some touch of eroticism might be expected, but very little is to be found here. The actress in the first attack, on the beach, is nice to look at, but the violence of the scene serves as a wet blanket. Potentially the most erotically interesting scene is the one in which the trio peep on the neighbors. But the lovers are almost totally unseen here. This lengthy segment gives the audience an almost totally dark screen punctuated with brief flashes of light on a body part, accompanied by the sound of a woman moaning in pleasure. Cinematically it's rather interesting, and, giving us the peeper's POV, it's more realistic than an explicit nude scene would have been, but erotically it's just frustrating. The general atmosphere of misogyny and violence in the film is a turn-off, though a fairly common trait in Pink films of the era. To see how much worse this film could be, compare it with Naked Pursuit, another violent Pink film released the same year.
At a mere 71 minutes, it runs by quickly enough not to wear out its welcome. I recommend that fans of the genre give the film a look, though others will probably want to avoid it. It's by one of the masters of the genre, and has a lot his stylistic trademarks, though it shows him treading water rather than making any major artistic statements. The danger in making a film about bored, aimless, violent people, is of making a boring, aimlessly violent film, and, despite his typically interesting direction and camera-work, I don't think Wakamatsu has entirely avoided this pitfall in this film.