Synopsis: The sexy Ryoko Watanabe stars as Ami, a jaded housewife who pitches herself, body and soul, into the Tokyo decadence of the decade in an attempt to pep up her marriage. She secretly joins the elite “Madame Machiko Society Club” to experiment with discrete sex games and the thrill of making love to anonymous men. The sexual perversion and sick depravity she is subjected to, by her clients, is much more than she bargained for. Bondage, beads and whips are only the beginning! Can she escape this secret life she has chosen, or will it destroy her forever?
eyelights: its sexy bits.
eyesores: its lack of plot or character development.
“I never felt like that before; it was like being torn in half.”
By the 1970s, with the growing popularity of television, some Japanese studios were struggling to make money. Nikkatsu, which began to make samurai films and historical dramas in 1954, had to change its strategy over the years, eventually focusing on more diverse fare such as gangster films and comedies.
That kept them afloat but, by 1971, they had to adopt a completely new strategy to attract audiences to the cinema: They started making softcore films, otherwise known as Roman Porno (“roman” as a short for romance, not because it’s inspired by Roman history). This was extremely popular for well over 15 years.
‘Ryôshoku’ is a 1983 entry in the Nikkatsu Roman Porno genre. Starring Ryoko Watanabe, it’s about a demure housewife who begins to work in a brothel by day after her best friend tells her that it’s become a common practice. Through her various clients’ demands, she explores the limits of her sexual pleasure.
It’s essentially a Japanese ‘Belle de jour‘.
The 70-minute film is quite devoid of plot. Aside for the way that she gets drawn into the world of sex work, after receiving a call for her first client even though she had yet to apply anywhere, and enjoying it enough that she then decides to make it a regular habit, there’s really not much going on.
It’s the same thing with respect to the character development. Other than the fact that her spouse’s best friend has had his eyes on her ever since they were at medical school together, and is still trying to get her in bed, and that her best friend lusts for him, there’s hardly anything moving Ami’s arc forward.
Really, ‘Ryôshoku’ is just about a gratuitous series of sex scenes that, cobbled together, show a gradual change in her sexual identity. I mean, her best friend comments to her clueless spouse that Ami looks prettier and that there’s a noticeable change in her, but it’s not apparent to us or to him.
The only true signs that something’s changed is that Ami appears to enjoy mixing up the rush of fear and sex together, first when her spouse wants to kiss her breast while they’re out in the yard, for all to see, and another time when a spider crawls up her torso and she decides to fondle her breast.
What’s stunning to me about this picture is just how far these Roman Porno films pushed the envelope, when one considers what European and North America erotic films were like. I mean, we’re talking large amounts of bondage, whipping, nipple torture, anal beads, lesbianism, oral sex, and female masturbation.
Of course, that was also the case with ‘Hana to Hebi‘ and ‘Jitsuroku: Abe Sada‘.
And this coming from a culture that didn’t show pubic hair up until recently. In fact, whenever the couples are having intercourse, there are grey circles to hide their “objectionable” parts. I found this more annoying than disappointing, as there are plenty of other ways to carefully hide pubic hair and genitals.
In any event, it was absolutely unfathomable to me that this is considered objectionable, yet watching a woman rub herself through her underwear and tasting the wetness on her fingers, seeing a man shove anal beads in Ami’s tush, or even seeing “semen” pour out of Ami’s mouth is okay. Pubes, though? Forget it!
Frankly, there’s not much for me in a movie such as this one. It’s heavy on BDSM and it’s something that doesn’t at all appeal to me. I appreciate the art of Japanese rope bondage, because it can be very pretty, but I’m not fond of its practice in a sexual context. So I was left unmoved by this glimpse into Ami’s sex life.
‘Ryôshoku’ put all its money on the same horse, and it’s not a winner for me.
But maybe it would be for someone else.
Date of viewing: June 12, 2016