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Gushing Prayer
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by Jay Seaver

"Softcore for the counterculture."
3 stars

SCREENED AT THE 2009 FANTASIA INTERNATIONAL FILM FESTIVAL: More than many films, "Gushing Prayer" is probably best enjoyed when placed into some sort of context. At the festival, there was an introduction that touched upon the cultural, economic, and political situation in Japan in the early 1970s, as well as some discussion about writer/director Masao Adachi, whose radical politics led to a life more incredible than any of the "pink" softcore flicks he made. You don't really need that, but it certainly helps to show why this particular pink is such an artsy thing.

Gushing Prayer follows Yasuko Aoyagi (Aki Sasaki), and three of her friends, Koichi (Hiroshi Saito) and two whom I do not believe are actually named in the film. They make loud noises about not being a pair of couples, though - they aim to behave in truly liberated manner, free of conventional forms of attachment, with prostitution almost considered an ideal. Of course, that's just not human nature, and Koichi starts to feel some jealousy when Yasuko announces she may be pregnant with the child of their teacher, even as it causes Yasuko some despair.

I've only seen a couple of pink films from this era (and have mixed feelings about seeing more should the "Behind the Pink Curtain" film series land at the local repertory theater), so I can't really judge how much of an oddity Gushing Prayer is. It certainly plays somewhat peculiar from the perspective of a twenty-first century American, like an especially chatty nouvelle vague film whose crisp black and white photography gives way to full-color sex scenes (as was the style for many pink films of the time; they were made on a budget tight enough that color stock was saved for the big scenes). Not particularly explicit sex scenes, but clear enough that there wasn't much doubt about what was going on.

Even those who don't require full-frontal may find the film a little less than arousing, as Adachi does a number of things that are kind of a buzzkill: Even beyond how the characters are determined to drain sex of any particular passion, Yasuko spends a lot of time talking about how it really doesn't do much for her, and some of her sex scenes certainly are lacking enough in animation to believe her. Her voiceover also includes plenty of reading suicide notes, mainly of young women, which connects to one other thing: The film's name is being truncated for Western exhibition - the full title is Gushing Prayer: A 15-Year-Old Prostitute, and Sasaki does have the frame to suggest that she wasn't much older than her character when the film was shot.

(Of course, a certain chunk of the audience is probably salivating over that; some probably reached this review by typing that exact description into a search engine.)

The movie might not do much for me in terms of titillation, and may be self-consciously arty, but underneath all that there is a fairly strong story and a legitimately good performance or two. Cut through all the self-aware chatter about "defeating sex" and you've got a bunch of kids afraid of turning into their parents, who are apparently far from the role models they require, and Yasuko, faced with becoming a mother, is especially confused. Aki Sasaki does an impressive job of getting that on-screen; she's doing some actual acting, not just killing time between nude scenes. Adachi shows real skills as a writer and director, too - as much as he's young and making pronouncements, he's also building an emotional story that can be appreciated through the zeal.

That revolutionary zeal would lead Adachi in other directions - he was a member of the Japanese Red Army, and lived as a fugitive in Lebanon for 28 years before spending several years in various nation's custody. "Gushing Prayer" was one of the last films he directed before that, and though he has recently returned to filmmaking, it must have served as an interesting and ironic testament for decades: Revolutionary ideals laid low by human frailty.

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originally posted: 08/06/09 14:32:43
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OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2009 Fantasia Festival For more in the 2009 Fantasia International Film Festival series, click here.

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Directed by
  Masao Adachi

Written by
  Masao Adachi

  Aki Sasaki
  Hiroshi Saito
  Yuji Aoki
  Susumu Iwabuchi
  Michio Akiyama

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