Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Japan Cuts ’11: The Seaside Motel

A downtrodden traveling salesman is the only guest of a seedy motel who did not check-in for illicit purposes. In a rare stroke of luck, a professional lady of the evening knocks on his door anyway. While dealing with her mind games will be a challenge, he will still have a better night than the other occupants in Kentarô Moriya’s The Seaside Motel (trailer here), which screens during the 2011 Japan Cuts New York Festival of Contemporary Japanese Cinema now underway at the Japan Society.

Masayuki sells a bogus skin cream door-to-door—poorly. The Seaside Motel is actually in the mountains. Candy does what she does because she enjoys it, but she will pretend to yearn for intimacy for a price. Still, maybe there really is a grain of truth within her game-playing. Though she is way out of his league, Masayuki will try to crack her professional persona and make her feel something “genuine.” If not, he will probably still get his money’s worth.

The verbal sparring between Masayuki and Candy is smart, funny, and oftentimes hot. Unfortunately, the other guests are not nearly as interesting. The arc involving Arata, a discount store owner at the Seaside to get something on the side only to learn his wife has died in a car crash, is rather sad, but underdeveloped. In the next room, the deadbeat gambler confronting his yakuza childhood friend and a deceptively nebbish enforcer travels a rather well-worn Tarantino-esque path. Frankly, the final braided story of the loser with a height fetish putting the moves on his Marine, favorite club hostess, is basically just distinguished by the otherworldly limberness of swimsuit model Mami Yamasaki.

Moriya apparently recognizes the shortcomings of the other three story lines, because he clearly positions Masayuki and Candy as first among equals. As Candy, Kumiko Asô has a disarming screen presence and an intelligent sexuality. Relatively restrained, Tôma Ikuta brings the appropriate born-loser likability to the luckless Masayuki. They also have real chemistry going on between them, which makes it quite frustrating to constantly break away.

Even if only one of Seaside’s four major strands works, at least it is the most important one. Some might give Marine’s arc the benefit of the doubt as well, just for Yamasaki’s yoga scenes. Regardless, Seaside is at least ten times smarter and better executed than most naughty comedies. Recommended for its parts rather than its whole, Seaside screens this Saturday (7/16) at the Japan Society as part of this year’s Japan Cuts.