Friday, June 5, 2009
REVIEW: Electric Button (Moon & Cherry)
月とチェリー (Tsuki to Cherry)
Running time: 82 min.
Reviewed by Chris MaGee
21-year-old Tadokoro (Tasuku Nagaoka) is a University freshman. He has few friends and an inkling that he'd like to pursue creative writing. What would you do in his place? Enroll in a creative writing course or maybe join a writer's group, right? Right. That's exactly what he does, but Electric Button isn't your average writing group. It's six members have dedicated themselves to the higher purpose of extolling the art of love through literature (ie: writing sexy stories). Actually they don't even do much of that. Mostly the members sit around, drink beer and debate the precise location of the G-spot... all except for one, the groups most talented writer and sole woman, Mayama (Noriko Eguchi). Of everyone in the group Mayama has actually been published (albeit under a male pseudonym). She knows potential, and when she first meets Tadokoro she sees it, but not because of his writing skills. Maybe It's female intuition or her honed observational skills, but Mayama can instantly tell that despite all of Tadokoro's talk that he's never been with a woman. That of course is easy to fix, but what shocks poor Tadokoro isn't that Mayama takes him to her apartment and deflowers him, but that she's got an alterior motive. It turns out she's writing a novel about a virginal adolescent who is schooled in sexual technique by an older experienced woman and she needs to actually sleep with a virginal young man to get the character right. Oh the indignity! The feeling of being used! Of course Tadokoro continues his affair with Mayama, assisting her with her "research", but in the back of his mind he holds out hope that this will blossom into more. It's this sticky situation that forms the plot of Yuki Tanada's debut 2004 narrative feature "Moon and Cherry", retitled "Electric Button" for its upcoming North American DVD release from Tidepoint Picures.
People have a lot of preconceptions when it comes to female filmmakers. Instead of the big budget actioners and general brain-numbing exploitation that the male-dominated film industry churns out people expect thoughtful dramas, personal stories, maybe even documentaries from female fillmmakers. Yuki Tanada trashes these expectations by brilliantly subverting one of the most chauvinistic film genres: the sex comedy. How many times have we seen a teen sex comedy that in whole or in part was about about a young guy losing his virginity? "American Pie", "Losin' It", "Porky's", "Class", "The First Time"... need I go on? A male's first sexual experience is what lays at the very heart of the genre. All the other genre touchstones - the group of goofy friends, the old burnt out adviser, the prissy, unattainable girl as well as the "cool" girl who befriends the young protagonist - all these are built around the central premise of getting laid for the first time. All of these are present in "Electric Button (Moon and Cherry)" - the goofy members of the writing group and their eccentric leader, the 56-year-old forever student Sakamoto (Akira Emoto), Akane (Misako Hirata), the sweet, pretty girl who competes with Mayama for Tadokoro's affections... and then there's Mayama herself.
While it is common in sex comedies for the male lead to be nerdy and passive it's also common for the aforementioned "cool" girl who ultimately takes his cherry to be equally nerdy, almost an emotional and mental mirror of him except she possesses a plucky confidence, a hot body and a voracious sexual appetite. Tanada's biggest subversion of the genre comes from the fact that she takes this idealized girl out of the equation and replaces her with a complex, three-dimensional woman. Yes, Mayama is very attractive and she certainly has a healthy sex drive, but instead of being there to service Tadokoro's ego and desire Mayama's first concern is always Mayama - the quality of her writing and the satisfaction of her libido. On one hand she can be viewed as a self-possessed hero for young women, while on the other hand she could be seen as a self-involved egomaniac. I think that she's neither... or both at the same time, and that's why "Electric Button (Moon and Cherry)" is such a huge success. It does what most people think (or thought before the rise of writer/ producer Judd Apatow) was impossible: it gives depth to the sex comedy, a genre that doesn't have any depth.
"Electric Button (Moon and Cherry)" isn't a dry feminist tinkering with the genre though. It's a very funny film. This is primarily due to the wonderful performances given by Eguchi as Mayama and Nagaoka as Tadokoro. The two share an amazing screen chemistry and their comic timing is absolutely spot on, even during some very intimate scenes which is quite an accomplishment. Also credit must be given to Tanada for doing so much with so little. It's obvious that the film was made on a shoestring, but this is a film that doesn't have to rely on production value. It's got finely observed characters, a clever plot and the perfect mix of cheeky humour and honest emotion.