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

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