Saturday, April 23, 2011

Tribeca ’11: Underwater Love

Adult film was never so endearing. It is from Japan, you see. So-called Japanese Pinku Eiga or story-driven softish-core has earned its share of international fans and many of its leading stars and directors have crossed over into the mainstream. Just in time for Holy Week, Shinji Imaoka’s pinku-musical-crossover mash-up, Underwater Love debuted yesterday at this year’s Tribeca Film Festival, very definitely as a late night Cinemania selection.

Kappas are legendary Japanese water spirits, roughly humanoid in form, with turtle features. They live in water and must keep their scalps wet at all times. It seems Asuka’s long deceased high school classmate Aoki has become such a creature. Bored with life in the river, he would like to hang with Asuka for a while and do human stuff. This is a little awkward for her though, since she is engaged to her boss at the fish factory, not mention Aoki’s beak and tortoiseshell. However, Aoki is not simply looking for a good time. He came back to save his true love.

There is no getting around the adult nature of Underwater, but longtime Wong Kar-wai cinematographer Christopher Doyle gives it instant hipster art-house credibility (and a pleasing dream-like sheen). Yet, Sawa Masaki really supplies the film’s heart with her effervescent screen presence. Based on her charming turn in Underwater, she deserves to crossover to the mainstream.

As for Underwater, folks are probably wondering if there is any red hot human-turtle creature love. Oh yes, plenty. How about energetically goofy musical numbers? Affirmative. The Angel of Death appearing as a dirty smelly hippy? Present and accounted for. Considering how much Underwater has to offer, it might not simply be the finest motion picture ever produced, it could be the single greatest artistic achievement in the history of humanity.

Do I exaggerate? Perhaps a tad, for effect. The truth is Underwater represents the high-end of a distinctly Japanese movie genre. Though not to all tastes, Pinku Eiga has been the thin edge of the wedge for many fans who now love Japanese cinema of all stripes. It is part of a rich and occasionally strange cultural tradition that has enriched the world.

Of course, Japan is now experiencing profound challenges in the wake of the earthquake and tsunami. While Hollywood and the current administration evidently could not be bothered to take any meaningful constructive action, private citizens can support our Japanese friends and allies by contributing to the Red Cross' efforts here or the Japan Society’s relief fund here. Indeed, the eccentric yet laidback Underwater will definitely put viewers in an appreciative frame of mind when it screens again during this year’s Tribeca Film Festival tonight (4/23), Wednesday (4/27) and Thursday (4/28).