Shinji Imaoka belongs to a select group of young Japanese film directors, known collectively as the "Shichifukujin" (Seven deities of good fortune), renowned for their work in the “Pink Eiga” category that weave personal reflections encapsulating the emotional instability, insecurity, and perverse sex lives of Japanese youth.
DESPITE ALL THAT, (1999), is fairly typical of Imaoka’s output, with thematics involving sex addiction, dysfunctional marriage, abusive family cycles, sexual experimentation, and liberated women. The film opens with Naoko (Mitsuyo Suwa) chopping vegetables at the kitchen sink whilst her husband Yoshio (Takeshi Ito) sits eating. Suddenly, Naoko turns to her husband and says; “I feel like cutting my wrist”, at which point Yoshio rises, hugs his wife and gently removes a knife from her hand. From his rather cool, calm, and collected manner, we gather that this is not a rare occurrence at mealtimes. Naoko suffers insecurity issues, her disillusionment stems from the fact that Yoshio suffers from impotency for which Naoko blames herself due to her failure to arouse sexual desire within her partner.
In order to gain some kind of self-esteem Naoko embarks on a lesbian relationship with Kimiko (Atsuko Suzuki), a bisexual student at her college who also suffers from depression. Kimoko manages to control her own suicidal thoughts by attempting to dominate those around her in a sexual manner. At first, she seduces a reluctant Naoko who desperately craves sexual attention, and then manipulates their affair in order to initiate a threesome with Yoshio, whose impotence is overcome when he makes love to his wife whom he has persuaded to dress up as a schoolgirl.
Kimiko, however, needs full control of the situation. Not merely happy to serve as a fix for Yoshio’s schoolgirl desire; she lures him to her apartment, (where we learn that her parents have abandoned her giving rise to her own insecurity issues), and the two engage in bondage games. When Yoshio is safely handcuffed (with the words “Old perverted pedophile!” (sic) painted onto his naked torso), Kimiko leaves him bound against his will in the company of her male flatmate (Mikio Sato) and visits Naoko. From this point on the four characters are forced to confront the fragility of their own egos, and via a series of clever role-reversals in which the dominant partners become submissive and visa-versa, the protagonists are able to finally recognize and accept the true aspects of their sexualities, which finally result in loving relationships.
Keeping within the low-budget confines of traditional “pink” fare, DESPITE ALL THAT utilizes minimal camera set-ups and lighting in order to replicate a documentary feel to the production. Faces are rarely seen in close-up and so the audience once more is relegated to voyeur to the dysfunctional lives of those on-screen. Because of this, the film is never erotic, despite several authentic looking sex scenes. Director Imaoka, (in common with the other Shichifukujin filmmakers that include Toshiya Ueno, Yoshitaka Kamata, Toshiro Enomoto, Yuji Tajiri, and Mitsuru Meike), isn’t interested in appealing to an audience seeking sexual thrills, but instead offers an intelligent and subversive look at sexual politics in a culture often considered by western audiences to be extreme. By elevating the feminine, and poking gentle fun at the perverse pleasures of Japanese men; one sequence has Yoshia suggesting to his wife that her schoolgirl outfit must be accompanied by “baggy socks”, whilst another shows him sloppily dressed in female clothing, clumsy make-up, and wig in an attempt to engage his wife’s latent lesbianism.
The film is at its most stylish when utilising metaphorical references to the protagonists ever-changing states of mind. We witness Naoko chopping cabbage at several stages in the film. As she slowly drifts into an unwanted relationship with her student and feels she is losing track of her true self, the slicing of the cabbage becomes finer, representing the increasing instability of her mind. Another use of metaphor comes with the visual use of a knife to symbolize power. Whenever Naoko holds the knife, she feels empowered, for not only is the knife used as a tool for preparing staple foods for the family unit, it also serves as a means for Naoko to mutilate herself (and therefore guarantee the attention of her partner), and to provide temporary cathartic release from her insecurit issues. The knife is seen to change hands between characters throughout the film: with each successive passing of the knife, the dominant power-play resides with the protagonist last seen holding it.
The acting here is of a higher standard than usually found in pink eiga, and benefits from the services of Takeshi Ito (TOKYO X EROTICA, and MUSCLE), and, unlike many genre submissions, the film doesn’t outstay its welcome. The sex isn’t extreme here: there’s some light bondage, no full frontal, and zero violence (save the mild aftermath of a hand cutting incident), but in spite of this the film maintains audience interest for its innovative and reflective insights into relationships and their power balance patterns, and remains a thought-provoking and somewhat artistic entry in a genre too often given over to bondage, bums, and breasts with little brains at the helm.
Carl T. Ford
Directed by Shinji Imaoka
Japanese with English Subtitles
SPECIAL DVD FEATURES
A Salvation Films "Sacrament" label release
All region / Pal / Widescreen 1.85:1 / mono
DESPITE ALL THAT