Monday, March 03, 2008


I recently saw a curious little Japanese film called Frog Song (Kaeru no Uta; aka Enjo-kousai monogatari: shitagaru onna-tachi). Directed by Shinji Imaoka, it's about a woman named Akemi who catches her boyfriend in bed with another woman, walks out, and enters into a stormy friendship with Kyoko, a woman who is a prostitute and aspiring manga creator. This is a "pink eiga (movie)": these are basically soft-core porn films, but the directors can pretty much film what they want as long as they put in the requisite number of sex scenes. A number of legitimate directors got their start in pink cinema (something like Roger Corman's 60s exploitation films in the U.S.). Frog Song has its quota of sex scenes, but they don't account for much of the movie and most of them aren't erotic. Nor is the film a comedy, despite the packaging of the U.S. DVD.

Oddly enough, the film reminded me of Hou Hsiao-Hsien, incongruous as it may seem to compare one of the great masters of cinema with an exploitation film by a nearly unknown director. Like Hou, Imaoka rejects the conventions of commercial movies, and in similar ways. There is a feeling of austerity to Frog Song. Characters' motives are frequently unclear. And there are often unexplained narrative gaps between scenes. For example, in one scene the two women are in a manga cafe after having had a fight, and one of them ostentatiously turns away from the other. In the next scene, they are in Kyoko's room and she is having sex with a client while Akemi watches, with no explanation given. And there is always an emotional distance between characters: unlike the conventional "odd couple" movie, Akemi and Kyoko never really connect with each other.

Aside from the direction, Konatsu gives a very good performance as Akemi. Frog Song is definitely worth checking out. Here's a good review.

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