The Strange Tale of Oyuki is probably the raunchiest movie to date in this edition of the Japanese Film Festival. While the earlier Imamura movies shown do have sexual scenes, this one takes the cake in its eroticism, treading so close to being soft-porn like in the style of Hong Kong Category III movies. But hey, I'm not complaining!
Based on a novel by Kafu Nagai, this movie uses a short story of the same name, and at the same time infused it with real diary entries of Kafu's as well, making it seem like an amalgamation of his life and that pre-war story. Some however, have claimed that it's solely based on the novel, and the director Kaneto Shindo had changed the protagonist to the author himself. Whatever the case is, since I can't read Japanese, and until someone who has read the book in its original language and watched the film can advise, we shan't rack our brains about this aspect of it.
The story follows the middle aged author, Kafu Nagai (Masahiko Tsugawa), in his gallivanting ways from the 1920s to post war Japan. It actually took the first 30 minutes or so to establish the fact that his literary works, which consist mainly of yellow literature, is not welcomed by fellow peers. Moreover, he has the propensity to wine and dine women, becoming a Don Juan of sorts, with a notorious reputation after establishing a series of conquests in Europe and North America. The beginning actually painted him as a lonely man as well, unable to hold down a regular relationship, opting instead for fleeting ones with geishas and waitresses.
Things start to change when Fate brings him to Oyuki, a prostitute, one rainy night, and romance start to blossom between the two despite his concerns about their age gap - he's close to 60, while she's mid 20s. As they do the horizontal tango in between the sheets on a regular basis, she starts to really fall for him, while he, always on the apprehensive. It also brought to mind about How to Become Myself's issue on persona, as we see how Kafu engineers himself to be a pornographic photographer as a cover for his researching writer role.
But it's not just sex and skin all the way. The movie allowed some suggestion of the geisha tradition and their skills in the art, and I was rather surprised at the hard anti-war stance and criticism that the narrative had taken up, with its documentary reel like scenes of the Imperial Army, and how because of the war the common folk are made to suffer with the constant barrage of air strikes nearing the end of the war.
Masahiko Tsugawa provided some comedic relief in his acting, though I'm unsure if his wide-eyed eyeball look which seemed to draw more chuckles than anything else, and rubber faced expressions, were deliberate. As a man who decided early how to lead out his elderly life, I thought he had a somewhat stoic presence as an uncompromising man, and one who needed to get his rocks off. Yuki Sumida as the titular Oyuki, had actually won a number of awards for the role, and while her portrayal of the prostitute is sympathetic, I suppose she'll be best remembered for shedding her clothes instead.
Unpretentious and straightforward movie which runs almost like a bio-pic, I do not deny The Strange Tale of Oyuki as being entertaining, for the right reasons of course. Definitely an easy movie to sit through after an almost week long program of heavier material.