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Review © Mandi Apple, 2008.

Directed by Shinji Imaoka, 2005, 65mins., starring Konatsu, Rinako Hinasawa, Youta Kawase, Takeshi Ito, Kurumi Nanase and Mutsuo Yoshioka.

Directed in 2007 by Shinji Imaoka, whose back catalogue of pink eiga also includes the fairly respectable titles Despite All That and Lunch Box, Frog Song (aka Kaeru no uta, aka Enjo-kôsai monogatari: shitagaru onna-tachi) is, to put it mildly, a bit idiosyncratic. Ostensibly it is a bit of a mixed bag: half oddball comedy, half  affecting human drama featuring a great deal of "Japanese pop culture 101", with simply scads of otaku, mangakas and manga cafes, lolitas, kigurumin (that's people who like to wear full-size furry animal "disguise pyjama" suits, in case you were wondering), prostitution under the guise of 'compensated dating', and anything else the director could possibly think of to include from the mysterious subculture of contemporary Japan. Even the character of the husband's mistress is a gothic lolita, albeit not a very good one ;-)

Under its surface layer of pop culture allusions though, Frog Song is also an interesting, sensitive and thoughtful study of several deeply dysfunctional people, from the point of view of several deeply dysfunctional relationships, within what I believe the director is attempting to portray as an essentially dysfunctional contemporary culture.

The emphasis placed here on the subcultural aspects would seem to indicate that Imaoka is making a point of mocking the absurd fads and fashions of his own country and how, on a very personal level, just how mentally messed-up someone has to be before, in all seriousness, they don a giant pyjama-suit in the shape of a frog - which, on a macrocosmic level, infers that there is a pretty grand scale of messed-up-ness going on in Japanese society, if its popular culture is so intrinsically risible.

Yet there is also an element of questioning: in a properly adjusted society, would so many of its members feel so deeply embittered and afraid that they would need to lose themselves in that kind of total escapism, by becoming a self-imposed social outcast (such as in the case of Japan's steadily-increasing 'hikikomori' or 'acute social withdrawal' problem), or by other subcultural means, such as trying to hide within the persona of a giant furry frog? Imaoka has evidently upped his game since Despite All That and Lunch Box, cleverly using the pop-culture references to illustrate the deep inner conflict and turmoil of his characters, rather than just throwing them in to spice things up a bit.

The sex, I feel duty-bound to tell you, is utterly heinous - far too much super-loud slurping, deviance, violence and unpleasantries, which render it either comedic or disturbing rather than erotic. Visually, despite its low, low, low budget, Frog Song looks well put together, with some nice composition, and there's even the odd snippet of music, which seems to be quite a rare commodity in pinku eiga. And from the point of view of the acting, both Konatsu (whose performance in another pinku eiga title Bitter Sweet was equally excellent) and Rinako Hinasawa (making her pink film debut here, and who would go on to make many, many more genre titles) do a fairly good job of portraying a couple of emotionally complicated misfits, never hamming it up but delivering solid, understated and surprisingly convincing performances.


Kudo Akemi (Konatsu) is a young woman with serious otaku tendencies (well... with serious mental problems in general, really), who has just found out that her husband (Mutsuo Yoshioka) has been cheating on her - and not just a bit, but a lot. Oh blimey, a whole heck of a lot. She repays him quite righteously by clonking him over the head with a bottle of booze. Somewhat unsympathetically he kicks her out, and she ends up seeking sanctuary in her favourite manga cafe clutching her plush frog backpack.

However, it really isn't Akemi's night: she has a minor punch-up over a volume of some random manga with a girl named Ito Kyoko (Rinako Hinasawa), and exhibits some very peculiar behaviour, acting like an overgrown child, whimpering and stamping her foot. Yet the two form an unlikely friendship, pulled together by the bond of an obsessive love of manga: Akemi, because she is evidently lacking in social skills and very immature and childish, and Kyoko, slightly better-adjusted than Akemi, because she is an aspiring manga artist. But not only that: both of them are leading incredibly painful and difficult existences at the hands of amoral men, which becomes apparent later.

After Kyoko leaves, poor old Akemi is forced to return to her apartment and endure the sound of her husband servicing his bit on the side in their bedroom. (How she doesn't go next door and repeatedly clonk them both with the bottle, I don't know. I would ;-)) He tells her that he's splitting up with his epic fail of a gothic lolita floozy named Nagisa (Kurumi Nanase), but later, when Nagisa comes to Akemi's workplace, she informs her that they're not splitting up at all, and will be continuing to meet in secret. All of which leads to a completely ludicrous punch-up between lolita and otaku, armed with baguettes. No, I don't know either ;-)

Still, after all the emotional upset that being clonked with French bread by a lolita can bring, Akemi again returns to her favourite manga cafe for a bit of peace and quiet (and hopefully a bit of a rest from clonking with bread or any other foodstuffs), and bumps into Kyoko again. It turns out that while waiting for her big break into manga, Kyoko makes her money by prostitution, and sometimes suffers from violent cruelty and degradation inflicted on her by her clients.

However, by performing the ultimate betrayal against Akemi, Kyoko shows Akemi what is really important to her, and they end up giving each other what they both need, and teaching each other something about core values, learned through their own personal bitter experiences, and from each others' natures: the childlike fun of Akemi's heart and the strength and indomitable power of will of Kyoko's soul.

Part bizarre coming-of-age story, part social indictment, part feminist empowerment fable, Frog Song, for all its quirkiness, doesn't quite reach the dizzy heights of berserkery scaled by the likes of, say, Tokyo X Erotica, although it would clearly run away with the Oscar for Most Innovative Use Of Bread In An Action Sequence category, not to mention one of the strangest "breaking of the fourth wall" sequences it's ever been my pleasure (?) to witness ;-)

That said, it's a fascinatingly innovative and complex piece full of heart, a wry, bittersweet sideswipe at the foibles of modern Japanese life and at the age-old male/female divide, and well worth a watch.

Snowblood Apple Rating for this film:

Entertainment Value: 7/10
Acting: 8/10
Sex: 7/10 for amount, -7/10 for any kind of titillation
Violence: 4/10
Boobies: 10/10 - plenty of boobage for the discerning boob connoisseur ;-)
Lolitas: Bodyline/10
Bread: 2 action-packed baguettes
Singing, dancing people pretending to be giant frogs: 2, which is 2 more than any other film I've ever seen X__X

Films in a Similar Style: No. Really, no. But Tokyo X Erotica, Bitter Sweet, Despite All That and Lunch Box are about as close as you'll get.

*** Recommended! ***

Thanks to Salvation Films, who supplied a screener for this movie

Snowblood Apple Filmographies

Shinji Imaoka


http://www.salvation-films.com/ - Salvation Films site
http://www.argopictures.jp/lineup/kaerunouta.html - official Frog Song page (Japanese only)
http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0881929/ - IMDB page
http://d.hatena.ne.jp/rinarinako/ - personal blog of Rinako Hirasawa (Japanese only)
http://twitchfilm.net/archives/004712.html - movie page at Twitch, featuring trailers for the film
http://www.walkerplus.com/tokyo/latestmovie/report/report3642.html - Frog Song at MovieWalker (Japanese only)
http://www.dvdtalk.com/reviews/31736/frog-song/ - short, somewhat neutral and technical review at DVDTalk

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