Directed by Takahisa Zeze; Japan; 2001; 77 minutes; starring Yuji Ishikawa, Takeshi Ito, and Mayuko Sasaki
There's always been a thin line between pornography and art. Anyone with even the least bit of cultural awareness is likely to be just as aware of the often sexual nature of art. Full frontal nudity has been a regular in it all over the world since the stupid ages, and as time crawled on more and more perversity and obscenity came into play. This eventually resulted in such dubious extremities as performance art, and so the world could witness people driving nails through their Johnsons (Bob Flanagan) and folks emptying bladders and bowels into each others mouths (Otto Mühl and Günter Brus), without having to resort to renting bizarro porn movies at the local videostore.
Pinku films are of a similar dubious kind, although the aforementioned nails, bladders, and bowels are few and far between in these movies. They do however make one wonder where art ends and porn starts, or the other way 'round. While technically 'just' porn, pinku films are nothing like the Western sex films that feature extreme close-ups of hardcore penetration and the like. As Japanese censorship boards do not allow genitals and pubic hair to be shown in films, you can pretty much imagine how Japanese porn can't be anything like your usual Jenna Jameson flick. This peculiar kind of censorship has lead to some rather awkward situations in the past. Back in 1996 an American book called Death Scenes hit Japanese shores, featuring nothing but graphic images of murder and suicide victims. The censorship boards immediately objected to its release; some of the maimed and mutilated bodies were naked.
In any case, when you can't show genitals and pubic hair in a porn flick, you can either just be lazy and optically fog all the stuff you're not allowed to show, or get creative. Luckily, a lot of Japanese film-makers got creative.
Case in point: Tokyo X Erotica. It's got all the nudity and perverted sex you could ever wish for, but it's hardly porn. Director Takahisa Zeze, of Raigyo and Moon Child fame, manages to deliver a film that's loaded with sex, and yet, it's perfectly enjoyable in the way you enjoy a 'normal' movie. Although, normal. As the synopsis on the cover reads "Tokyo X Erotica is a neon drenched cyber-sex tale of alienation, terrorism, semen-firing guns, masturbating bunnies and death in 21st Century Tokyo", you may very well be expecting something like a porn interpretation of Tetsuo directed by, oh what the heck, The Flaming Lips. Strangely enough, this does kind of make sense. While being far from as hyper-kinetic as Tetsuo or as explicit as porn, there's an overall quality of alienating, sexual psychedelica to Tokyo X Erotica that makes it a fascinating experience of its own.
Now, first off, please take into consideration the fact that this movie confused me a whole lot. I even took notes to try and make sense out of it, yet still failed to do so. I will however attempt to explain the plot. That's right, attempt.
The movie starts with a biker entering a tunnel, which appears to be filled with gas. On top of that, the floor is filled with people who seem to have passed out! Ding ding! Bad news! However, before this biker finds an opportunity to escape, he has already fainted and fallen onto the floor. A voice-over says: "Is this how I'll die?". We learn that the biker is named Kenji. The voice-over continues and poses yet another question: "Which is longer, the time before or after death?".
We cut to a bunch of street interviews with seemingly random people who answer this question, and then get treated to the first chapter, named "The Time After His Death". We see a woman, Haruku, who is a prostitute. She's out on the streets, looking for a costumer and finding one, too - and not just any costumer, no way, it's a guy in a pink bunny suit! She takes him home and they have perverted sex, whereafter she finds a bent spoon on the floor and, subsequently, gets killed by the pink bunny suit guy (still with me there?).
We cut to a different appartment, where we see Haruku lying in bed with Kenji. The voice-over tells us they will break up. End of scene (short, huh?).
Cut to: a TV showing a news broadcast about the gas-filled tunnel. Some on-screen text informs us that this is "1995: The Time She Is Alive". Persons in white suits enter the tunnel and check if there are any survivors, but there aren't any. All are dead, including Kenji. Zoom out; the TV on which we saw the news broadcast stands in yet another apartment. A woman sits on the couch. Then a man enters the room, and they make sweet love on the couch. Next, mister love machine takes a present out of his pocket and gives it to the woman - it appears to be a spoon, which she bends. Then there's some more bootilicous action; however, it grows more and more perverted each minute, ending with the man ferociously beating the living jeebus out of the woman. In the next shot, the woman is standing outside on the balcony, pointing a water pistol to her head. The screen turns black and we hear a loud bang.
Cut to Haruku. We learn that she and Kenji broke up. However, she still visits the apartment he used to live in every now and then to pee on the floor. Yes, that's right. To pee. On the floor.
I'll end this synopsis here and now, as I wouldn't want to spoil further happenings - plus, you may very well not be making much sense out of it. However, it's perhaps interesting to take note of the overlying themes that give the film just the amount of cohesion it really needs, such as Kenji and Haruku's relationship. Futhermore, Zeze seems to aim for injecting a proper dose of symbolism into Tokyo X Erotica - the bent spoon seemingly signifying certain death, for instance. There's more recurring elements such as this one as you will notice upon viewing the movie, which makes it all the more interesting for those who like a little challenge in making sense out of apparent nonsense.
One of the movie's strengths is the fact that it comes across as a very matter-of-fact piece of work. Although the subject matter is odd and alienating at all times and even flat-out bizarre at some moments, Tokyo X Erotica succeeds in retaining some sort of vague credibility throughout that makes it, as crazy as this may sound, almost believable. The use of mostly amateur actors (all of whom deliver superb performances) is one of the things that is the cause of this sense of certain realism. There's not one really familiar face among the entire cast, and as a result, it makes it particularly easy to view them as the characters they play rather than the actors they are.
Takahisa Zeze presents all this madness to us in a beautifully weird fashion. A lovely shot-on-video look adds more realism to the whole, and the heavy use of bright and highly contrasted colors as opposed to other black and white shots in combination with some downright gorgeous cinematography makes for a movie that feels intimate and personal, yet never comes across as amateuristic or cheap. Add to that Zeze's radical way of storytelling, mixed-up timelines, and total chaos, and you're in for one hell of a pinku ride.
In the end, Tokyo X Erotica proves to be more than just your average Japanese sex film. If you're merely looking for hot steaming humpalicious action, you'd be wise to look elsewhere. If you are, however, feeling rather adventurous and would like to see a movie that is as odd as it is fascinating, you know where to look.
Snowblood Apple Rating for this film:
Entertaiment Value: 8/10
Huge Bunnies Of Doom: 1. How many more do you need? ;-)
Violence: Sperm-squirting water pistols/10
Films in a Similar Style: Raigyo, sort of. Gozu, sort of.
*** Highly Recommended! ***
This film is released by Salvation Films.
Tokyo X Erotica Wallpaper
please note: the actual paper does not have the Snowblood Apple logo on it.
You can download this wallpaper here: [800x600] [1024x768]
Wallpaper credit: Sven, 2005
Snowblood Apple Filmographies
http://www.salvation-films.com - Tokyo X Erotica is available direct on Region 0 from Salvation Films, who very kindly provided us with the screener copy used for this review
http://www.bizarreingredients.co.uk/japan/z/tokyo/tokyo.html - Insightful review from Bazz @ Bizarre Ingredients
http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0320641/ - IMDb page
http://unrated.co.uk/reviews/review_155.htm - Another review
http://www.rumourmachine.com/Reviews/Tokyo_X_Erotica.htm - Aaaand another.
http://www.midnighteye.com/interviews/takahisa_zeze.shtml - Midnight Eye's interview with Zeze