Love & Loathing & Lulu & AyanoReviewed By Jay Seaver
Posted 07/29/11 00:07:12
(Worth A Look)
SCREENED AT THE 2011 FANTASIA INTERNATIONAL FILM FESTIVAL: I've learned a lot more about the Japanese adult film industry via going to Fantasia than I have any desire to know. It's not intentional - one year a Nikkatsu youth drama retrospective mentions that they specialized in "roman-porno" after that; another features a film, "Lalapipo", that spends a lot more time with the characters in that world than the upbeat trailer indicates; others feature ambitious but still softcore "pink eiga". "Love & Loathing & Lulu & Ayano" is another entry in the second category, and I recommend it on its own. It's just reaching a point where I find myself needing to take longer showers.Lulu Sakurazawa doesn't exist; the name is just a pseudonym for Junko Ogura (Norie Yasui), a girl recruited off the streets to appear in an adult movie with the promise of "being someone else". It's appealing - she's 22 and cute, but very timid, likely stemming from the promiscuous, bitter mother (Makiko Watanabe) she still lives with. Lulu may be a a cosplay otaku dork, but she can do anything, even make friends with Ayano (Mayu Sakuma), her ex-biker co-star who scares the rest of the set with her anger management problems. There's a limit to how empowering this is, though: Lulu's first fan (Ini Kusano) definitely has stalker potential, Ayano's boyfriend Yuya (Hirofumi Arai) has made a creepy request, and Lulu is starting to take up more and more of Junko's life.
A lot of overtly demeaning and otherwise off-putting things happen on porn sets, but perhaps the most unnerving scene comes early on, as Junko goes shopping for the costume she'll wear in her Lulu persona. This costumed salesgirl comes up to sell her on the fairy wand accessory, and she's just a bit too loud, too committed to her character, and speaking in something that sounds like baby talk. Junk looks a bit startled at first, and there's something even more off-putting than usual about the combined objectification and infantilization of women here. It's a minor theme throughout the rest of the movie, but that moment especially makes anyone in the audience who kind of digs that sort of thing a little complicit as Lulu heads down this road.
Ayano gets a similarly defining moment a bit later that pegs her as yang to Lulu's yin, working hard to bottle her feelings up even when, to be honest, the world might be a better place if she unloaded her anger on its deserving target. Yoko (Ayano's real name) is probably further along in her path to maturity than Junko, but they each need what the other can teach.
The actresses' performances are an interesting complement, too. In her early scenes, Norie Yasui gives the audience a clear view of where Junko/Lulu is starting from, which is important because Lulu becomes something of a clean slate, and though she only exists within certain parameters, Yusai makes her a chameleon within that range. Yoko, even sporting a pseudonym and performing on a movie set, can only ever be herself, and Mayu Sakuma does a fine job of giving her that sense of identity even while she grows. After her, there are plenty of minor characters portrayed just right, most notably Junko's mother, who Makiko Watanabe makes bitter and self-loathing enough to be a perfect match to every hang-up her daughter has, and Ini Kusano is dead on as Lulu's utterly delusional (but not raving) first fan.
Such details likely come naturally to director Hisayasu Sato; while screenwriter Naoko Nishida used the four-volume non-fiction work Women Without Names as the film's inspiration, Sato was likely able to draw many details from his own time in the adult video industry in the 1990s (during a fallow period for the more respectable pinks he is better known for). It's a harsh and frequently frightening depiction of the business from performer to consumer, but what's interesting is how he doesn't depict it as sleazy and obviously disreputable - what we see is clean, friendly, and utterly without empathy for the on-screen talent it churns through. It's a somewhat exaggerated parallel for urban life in general, showing Sato as having interesting ambitions beyond just an exposť or movie about female friendship (with enough nudity to draw men as well). Sometimes these ambitions stretch a little far - especially toward the end, as scenes meant to be ambiguous or symbolic as opposed to the simple storytelling that came before start to pile up - but for the most part, it is impressive, sympathetic work.Impressive enough, at least, that I choose to believe in the best possible outcome that the final scenes can hint at. Sato and the cast have made me care a bit, even if they've also given reason to be cynical.
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