Wednesday, February 15, 2017

Suffering of Ninko: Sex and Buddhism

Ninko wants to know the sacred, not the profane. Unfortunately, he finds himself in the Edo-era monastic Buddhist Carry On movie Gerald Thomas never made. It is hard out there for a monk with inconveniently potent animal magnetism, but he will take an ominous detour through Kwaidan territory in Norihiro Niwatsukino’s terrifically inventive Suffering of Ninko (trailer here), which is available for a limited time only on Festivalscope’s public-facing VOD platform.

Ninko’s spirit is earnest and chaste, but his flesh is too darned tempting for women (and also some men). Whenever he begs for alms, it creates bedlam on the streets. That might sound great to some guys, but it is a nightmare for a novice monk trying to hold up his end of the monastic duties. Eventually, things get so chaotic, the abbot sends him away on a journey to level his sexually charged karma.

To cleanse himself, Ninko tries to avoid people, but he is still visited by erotically charged dreams and visions. Disheartened and somewhat disoriented, the novice starts to doubt his purpose. However, fate will bring him to a cursed village terrorized by Yama-onno, a succubus-like goddess who seduces men, draining them of their life force in the manner of a sexual vampire. A notorious ronin thinks he has her number, but Ninko and his mojo would seem to match up better against her.

Suffering is no mere bawdy comedy, though it certainly never lacks for bare breasts. It is also rather shockingly learned when it comes to Buddhist traditions. Visually, it is rich and distinctive, augmenting the live action with animated segments stylistically derived for woodblock prints and mandala paintings. Naturally, there are hat-tips to classic Japanese ghost movies, but Niwatsukino clearly aims more for caustic irony than horror, per se.

It is hard to believe this is his first full-length feature. The animated sequences are wildly cool and his initially naughty narrative holds some real surprises for unsuspecting viewers. Masato Tsujioka is a good sport enduring all sorts humiliations and slapstick travails as Ninko. Credit also goes to Miho Wakabayashi, who never holds back as Yama-onno. In contradiction of its title, Suffering of Ninko is a total blast, so fans of Kwaidan films or smart (goofy) movie spoofs are strongly encouraged to check it on while it is still available to the public via Festivalscope (especially now that the Dollar and the Euro are so close to parity). Very highly recommended, it plays through the weekend (until 2/20).