Thursday, July 14, 2011

Mondocurry NYAFF report vol. 11.1: a Look of Admiration at LULU AND AYANO

Monday was my last day of feasting my eyes on Asian films. I saw two movies, each worthy of their own write-ups.

The first was LOVE AND LOATHING AND LULU AND AYANO. This was a movie that had me teetering between several different emotions - fascination, annoyance, disbelief, and sympathy – before gaining my admiration and winning me over as one of my favorites of the festival. The film takes an unblinking look at the Japanese porn industry. It’s not a tell-all, but as the tale of its two protagonists unfolds, we are given plenty of views of Japan’s unique sex industry, which range from laughable to highly disturbing. Considering the source material for the movie, a book of interviews with unrecognized actresses in the industry called NAMAE NO NAI ONNA TACHI (Women Without Names), as well as director Hisayasou Satou’s extensive experience directing “pink” movies, I would say it’s as authentic a depiction as one is likely to get.

The movie starts with Lulu’s indoctrination into the realm of adult video making. She soon meets Ayano, who is the bold and outspoken Ying to Lulu’s wavering insecure Yang. A friendship develops between the experienced and novice participants, and their differences end up providing that missing something that each of them needs to get by.

Along the way, the characters put up with the pitfalls that revolve around the porn industry: misleading recruiters, sleazy agents, cutthroat competitive actresses, and freakish fans unable to function socially in the outside world that threaten to come out from behind their keyboards. There are also the degrading and not to mention life threatening premises of the movies being produced. The film manages to show all this with an even hand, refraining from browbeating its audience into taking a certain stance.

The film also looks at societal pressures of living in today’s Tokyo, which affects these girls, and in many cases leads them into the positions they are in: image consciousness (a scene at Lulu’s office job suggests that only by behaving sexually and submissively can a girl gain attention from her advantaged male peers), falling into debt and the trouble it leads to with organized crime, and the lack of positive parental role models. In the case of Lulu’s mother, there is a portrayal of vindictiveness and self centeredness rivaling the bile- inducing characterization of the same sort of mother figure in Kore- Eda’s NOBODY KNOWS.

While Ayano is cool as a tough as nails begrudging veteran, it’s Lulu that steals the show. Her character changes drastically from dithering doormat to giggly caricature of a fantasy cosplaying porn idol to hardened strong-minded individual. Newcomer actress Norie Yasui makes the transformation look far easier than it must’ve actually been to portray.

That second personality, the hyper cartoonish porn star, was a difficult one for me to endure. Had the film been a celebration of this sort of silliness, I would’ve given it a big thumbs down. The movie proves to be a testament to the importance of distinguishing between annoying character and annoying movie. The exasperating extreme to which she goes in this mode is necessary to show the emptiness of the false hope given to her at the beginning of the movie. It is after she sheds this hollow shell and, though mistreated, stands defiant against the antagonism that she is at her strongest and sexiest.

There is no lack of brutality or tragedy in the movie. I’ve noticed some viewers of the film complaining that a particularly gory scene is too farfetched for it to be taken seriously. In response to this I would point out that over the course of the past decade, Japanese headlines are, sadly, rife with just this sort of over-the-top incident. A harder to swallow aspect of the story is the friendship between Lulu and Ayano at the movie’s core. How often in real life do individuals stuck in the marginalized fringes of society actually form bonds instead of looking out only for themselves? This is a film that uses a fantastic, and therefore compelling, story, to draw attention to serious social issues.

Looking back, I feel that LOVE AND LOATHING AND LULU AND AYANO along with 3 other Japanese films that I saw (HEAVEN’S STORY, RINGING IN THEIR EARS, ABRAXAS) could’ve been presented together under a theme of realistic dramas (albeit with touches of the fantastic) that take piercing looks at contemporary Japan’s societal ills. Had this been done, it may have drawn some bigger audiences to these movies that truly deserve to be seen, as well as created a situation to perhaps have the directors be on hand for q & a’s (I for one would have loved insight into the minds behind ALL of these films!). It is understandable, however, that this did not happen considering it is the festival’s tenth anniversary and a multitude of other focuses (Wu Xia, retro films, Korean action, and Tsui Hark) were already planned. Perhaps this great run of Japanese movies will continue and receive such a focus next year. In the meantime, keep your eye on JAPAN CUTS across town as it is certain to show more films of this nature before it is over.

For an insightful testimonial at just how powerful an effect this film could have, check out this reaction written by self professed former porn actress. The translation seems spotty, but its essence is clear.

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