At 3:15 p.m. this Christmas Eve the body of 36-year-old Japanese TV personality Ai Iijima was discovered in her Tokyo apartment by a business colleague. An autopsy revealed that she had been dead a week before she was found and that because of the advanced state of decay her in which she was found they were unable to pinpoint an exact cause of death. Heart attack or suicide were ruled as the two most likely causes, but Iijima's end will probably remain a mystery.
North American movie audiences are probably not familiar with Ai Iijima, well mainstream movie audiences anyway. If you're into adult films you may (or may not) recognize her name from such films as "Thank You for the Fuck!" or "Used Panty of Sister in Law". You see Iijima started out her career as a porn star, but after her retirement it was her frankness when discussing her time in the Japanese adult film industry, plus her propencity for flashing her G-string and bare behind on late night TV which earned her the name "The T-Back Queen", that vaulted her into the mainstream in the mid-90s. Think of a Japanese version of Traci Lords or Jenna Jameson and you'll start to get the idea. It wasn't just a back catalogue of hardcore porn and prime-time winking innuendo for Iijima though. In 2000 she published her autobiography titled "Platonic Sex" that chronicled not only her time as a Japanese AV star, but her tragic youth characterized by rape, prostitution and mountains of debt. "Platonic Sex" became a huge hit, selling millions of copies, so it was no surprise that it would have been turned into a movie. Given what an interesting life Iijima led it is a surprise... an unpleasant one... that Masako Matsura's 2001 big screen re-telling of her memoir would end up being such a melodramatic mess, even with the help of big talent like Jo Odagiri and Hiroshi Abe in supporting roles.
Disturbingly enough "Platonic Sex" begins with a suicide attempt. Having been ostracized by her family after being gang-raped by a group of boys Ai's literary alter-ego Aoi Kadokura (Saki Kagami), is about to jump from the top of an apartment building, but at the last moment she receives a text message from a "Toshi" wishing her a happy brithday. Aoi doesn't know anyone by that name though. Taking this as a sign she starts texting back and forth with this Toshi, a bartender and amateur DJ played by Jo Odagiri in his first feature film role. Without ever meeting he becomes her support throughout a period of enjo kosai "subsidized dating" and working in a hostess club. It's an interesting narrative device and excuse for ongoing voiceover by Kagami. Whether this actually happened to Iijima, though, is up for debate.
To be a successful hostess Aoi has to keep up a certain mystique: designer clothes, expensive make-up and handbags and soon she's ¥5 million in debt. For a little while she thinks that Ishikawa (Hiroshi Abe), a flamboyant and wildly wealthy regular at her bar might be able to help, but when he doesn't come through she's left in a tough spot. "You're only worth what you can earn," another girl at the bar tells Aoi, so when the opportunity to make enough money to pay off her debt by making porn comes along she feels she can't turn it down. Aoi changes her name to Ai (Love), grudgingly gets naked and her career as an AV star begins.
It's a tragic story that a director like Mikio Naruse or Kenji Mizoguchi would have killed to tell, but in the hands of Matsura it just ends up being an overblown movie-of-the-week. Kagami as Aoi comes across as empty and selfish when she should be sympathetic and her unrequited and then requited love for Toshi becomes laughable when every moment they spend together looks like it comes from a DeBeers' diamond commercial complete with a sappy piano tune called "From Silence". Where's the grit? The seediness? Even the porn sets that Ai reluctantly works on seem sanitized. The only nod to just how out of control Iijima's life became come from repeated threats by her character that she'll kill herself if things don't go her way. In the end I guess we're left asking whether these were juvenile attempts at attention or foreboding signs of Iijima's untimely end.