Monday, 21 November 2011


Shinji Imaoka's comedy Underwater Love (Onna no kappa) is described as a Pink musical, Pink being a genre of low budget independent productions in Japanese cinema, mostly with an erotic content. Being unconstrained and free-minded, their films are unusually creative and experimental, having gained a following worldwide, although they seem to be in the wane in Japan for some years now. Being erotic productions (ie, with a near guaranteed audience), the film makers are given ample creative freedom, the resulting films quite often using the “erotic” façade to cast a critical eye on the world surrounding them.

They are, in a way, the absolute opposite of the Hollywood blockbuster.

Underwater Love was shot in 5½ days, one take only, Christopher Doyle's cinematography depicting quite elegantly the love triangle at the core of the film, and its environment, which features quite prominently, almost as another character. It is a Japanese (Kokuei Company ) and German (Rapid Eye Movies) co-production, featuring a score by the German band Stereo Total, a CD of it being included in the first 2,000 presses. In this sense, it is an attempt to rescue the genre from its decline in Japan and propel it to a world wide audience.

Love triangle? I hear you asking. Well, yes, it is, between Asuka (Sawa Masaki), a woman in her 30s who works in a fish factory and who is about to marry her boss, Taki (Mutsuo Yoshioka ), a rather stuck up man. One day, Asuka finds a fish still alive in the factory, and, after the celebratory dance with her fellow workers, she releases into into the sea, to encounter there, much to her surprise, her first kappa, a mythical water sprite, a figure in Japanese folklore, creatures which, while being benign, are still quite eerie, as they often may bring bad news.

She quickly learns that this particular kappa is no more than Aoki (Yoshiro Umezawa), a school sweet heart who drowned 17 years previously. And, indeed, he has returned in the shape of this wonderful creature to save her from her destiny. However, Underwater Love is a double love triangle, as Aoki is seduced by one of his co-workers at the fish factory, where he had managed to gain employment to be near Asuka. The love scene between Aoki and his co-worker, Reiko (Ai Narita), turns from ridiculous to hilarious, one cinematic blow job to hit the annals of cinema. Yet, this liaison results in Aoki squaring up to Asuka, as a love letter he wrote to her when he was still alive as a teenager, but never delivered, comes to light.

Underwater Love may seem to be a silly musical comedy at first glance, the plot being, at places, no more than a skeleton to hang the musical routines to the tuneful score of Stereo Total, the what I call the fish-dance, when Asuka rescues the fish she found still alive at the factory, and led her to find the kappa, being a case which springs to my mind. 

Yet, behind this light hearted comedy there is a certain nostalgic look at the endurance, and legacy, of our first love in our teenager years.

The sex? It is very tame indeed, purposely hilarious on places, certainly not on the same intense and obsessive level of Nagisa Ôshima's The Realm of the Senses (Ai no korîda), to say something. To some extent, Underwater Love also works as a parody of porn films.

The film is really a low budget one, so if you expect to encounter expensively made special effects, CGI, and masks here, you will be disappointed. Most of it was shot on location, Christopher Doyle's cinematography capturing the lush environment. I quickly forgot the obvious makeshift nature of Aoki's mask as a kappa, in fact, this “shanty town” quality to the whole production grew strongly in me as I delved into the story. In the very unlikely scenario that a Hollywood studio would decide to remake Underwater Love, I do not think it would work at all if those studio-like production values were to be applied to it.

In short, Underwater Love is an apparently silly musical comedy, a parody of porn movies, with tuneful score, well choreographed dance scenes, and a nostalgic look to the endurance of first love. Shinji Imaoka made a virtue of the “shanty town” look resulting from a low budget. The actors managed admirably well in their “one take only” filming.

Cinematography by Christopher Doyle (In the Mood for Love, Hero, Limits of Control)
Original Music by STEREO TOTAL

Japan/Germany/2011 / 87 Mins / In Japanese with English subtitles / Colour / 35mm


  • Anamorphic widescreen transfer with optional English subtitles
  • 3 Interviews with Christopher Doyle
  • Interview with director Shinji Imaoka
  • Pink Porcupines’ – Christopher Doyle’s behind the scenes shots
  • Theatrical Trailer
  • Special Limited Edition – First 2,000 pressed include Stereo Total soundtrack CD

The DVD is brought to you by 

DVD RELEASE DATE: 21 November 2011

Friday, 4 November 2011

Lars Von Trier's MELANCHOLIA: notes

Appropriately for the last offering from maverick Von Trier, a film about the end of the world, I felt that the end of my own world was nigh went I went to see it a couple of days ago, as I fell violently ill in the cinema, although I somehow managed to watch it until the end. No, I am not blaming Von Trier for my tribulations, although I would like to add my voice to those who have accused him of all the sins under the sun. No, I blame something I ate just before the screening, which disagreed with my body. So, I'll try to recount as much as possible as I remember. 

Melancholia is a huge planet which is going to collide with Earth, and no one can do a thing about it. 

Not least the two sisters who are the central characters of the film. Justine (a magnificent and award winning performance by Kirsten Dunst), a manic depressive young woman who actually works as a copy writer for an advertising agency (are all copy writers mentally ill, I wonder), and Claire (Charlotte Gainsbourg, a performance not much different from the one she gave in Antichrist), her strong headed sister who married money, in the shape of Michael (Alexander Skarsgård), react in unexpected ways when this planet of ours finally gets pulverized by the stray Melancholia. 

In the actual beginning of the film we see the newly married Justine trying to get into the manorial home of her sister in a stretch limousine for her wedding reception and party, and failing to do so, setting the tone of Melancholia. The actual party is rather conventional in its depiction, as we see the usual family members falling into pieces, Charlotte Rampling and John Hurt being quite magnificent in their depiction of the (fallen) parents of the bride). Festen did it much better. The relationship between the two sisters have been quite strained for some time, the party acting as a kind of amplifier for it. 

The second part of the film is seen with the eyes of Claire, as she receives a severely depressed Justine in their home, the big bad blue planet up there in the sky bearing closer and closer. The sensible couple, Claire and Michael, refuse to believe in the imminent demise of Earth, although Claire starts to get doubts about Michael's assurances that science has shown that Melancholia will pass close to our planet, but not collide with it. Yet the animal world starts to behave rather oddly, their horses becoming uncontrollable while snakes, frogs, and all kind of creatures, run frenetically around the place. They know, yet humans still attempt to cling to their hope. With the exception of Justine, the weaker of the sisters, the manic depressive of the two, who coldly accepts her destiny, whilst Claire falls to pieces as the end approaches. 

I read Melancholia as a homage to our times, where the rogue planet doubles as the rogue global economic crisis, threatening to end our world as we know it. It is also an study on our reactions to impending catastrophe, the shift of roles from the strong to the apparently weaker between us, where solidity is often based on social conventions rather than in an inner strength of character. 

I intensely disliked the very beginning of the film, a kind of pseudo National Geographic channel introduction to the forthcoming cosmic crash, a pillage of archive footing plus some (well done) CGI. For the record, I also disliked the same pretentious drivel in Malick's The Tree of Life. The roving camera work did not help with my poor condition, although the cinematography is quite haunting.