Chris Knipp Writing: Movies, Politics, Art


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PostPosted: Sun Jul 09, 2017 2:36 pm 
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ISAO YUKISADA: AROUSED BY GYMNOPEDIES (2016) NYAFF

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ITSUJI ITAO (RIGHT) IN AROUSED BY GYMNOPEDIES

So much sex, so little point

Indie filmmaker Isao Yukisada here films a homage to Japan's 1970's and '80's roman pornos, a series of softcore wedding romance with graphic sex. Well, not all that graphic, only every ten minutes a pretty young woman gets her bra and panties ripped off and gets screwed. Its one of five in a new series commissioned by Nikkatsu for their 45th anniversary "Roman Porno Reboot Project." But this is also a portrait of a disappointed cinematic poseur who's on the way down.

The protagonist is a failed art filmmaker, Shinji Furuya, played by the sad sack Itsuji Itao of Air Doll. He slouches through his role convincingly, somehow, as a randy loser with a burnt-out, wrinkled face who has a lean smooth body so we're not disgusted to see him mount his married wardrobe assistant; Yuka, a rich student; and, ironically, Arri, the actress who's just quit his current film and caused it to be cancelled. It was a sleazy skin flick anyway, what he's come down to, to make some quick money to pay hospital bills for his current wife, who's in a coma in an expensive hospital. He gets his first wife to prostitute herself to raise money for the cause, then at the hospital screws the nurse - not for the first time. This time it's in front of his comatose wife. It gets a rise out of her. Earlier, there's a retrospective of Shinji's films where only a handful of people show up, his students, one a male student who assaults him for having sex with his girlfriend. A fight breaks out, and Shinji runs off, with others in hot pursuit. So, sex and comedy.

Yusisada has a delicate, restrained style, matched by quiet, restrained sets that are easy on the eye. The film never feels crude: it's just that there's a sex scene every ten minutes or so, like in a porn movie with a lot of narrative. Only it's just fucking, without ceremony or frontal nudity. I was reminded of Jacques Nolot, whose own films have combined sleazy sex with serious cinematic content; there must be some good films that combine gloom, failure, and sleaze. One doesn't hate Shinji. And one can't feel very sorry for him. He's certainly a jaded loser; but he's catnip for pretty young women.

Another classy note is set to counteract the sleaze by the recurrent theme of Eric Satie's elegant, minimal piano piece, "Trois Gymnopédies," which is woven in by having a female admirer play it on Shinji's piano at the end - after which he runs off again, futilely, and perhaps fatally. Yukisada has certainly done his job for Nikkatsu - and yet, like the laziness of Shinji, it seems only just enough. And Shinji isn't really "aroused" by "Gymnopedies" - that's a cheat.


Aroused by Gymnopediesジムノペディに乱れる (Jimunopedi Ni Midareru),83 mins., debuted in Japan 26 Nov. 2016. Reviewed as part of the NYAFF - showing 14 July 2017.

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