Friday, February 26, 2010

REVIEW: Groper Train: Search for the Black Pearl

痴漢電車 下着検札 (Chikan densha: shitagi kensatsu)

Released: 1984

Yojiro Takita

Yukijirô Hotaru
Shûji Kataoka
Kaoru Kaze

Kazumi Kimura
Naoto Takenaka

Running time: 64 min.

Reviewed by Matthew Hardstaff

Manchuria, 1928. The largest black pearl in the world is found on the dead hand of Zhang Zuoling, a Chinese man who was killed by a Japanese bomb. A Japanese soldier stumbles across the hand in a barren desert, and immediately recognizes it for what it is. He runs out of the desert in pure ecstasy, screaming and laughing like a mad man. The pearl is never seen again. Tokyo, 1984. A man gropes a girl on a train. He’s very explicit in fondling and grabbing. Then he has a heart attack. On his deathbed, he claims to know the whereabouts of the black pearl, but will only tell for one last fuck. And they do. And with his last dying breath he utters the words ‘pussy prints’. And so begins the search for one of the great mysteries of the 20th century, the search for the black pearl, a pearl so shrouded in secrecy it may even be responsible for Japans invasion of Manchuria just prior to WW2!

Yojiro Takita is possibly one of the most diverse directors in the world. The somber dramedy "Departures" won an academy award. Before that he did period films, some involving samurai, some involving blood spewing Yokai and others with magic wielding Yokai slayers. Prior to that he did some successful comedies, and before that he made this wonderful film, "Groper Train: Search for the Black Pearl". And he was incredibly successful at it. The series spans some 30 films, one made every year, and Takita directed almost a third of them. This was his bread and butter; this is how the academy award-winning director cut his teeth.

"The Search for the Black Pearl", and by extension I’m assuming most of Takita’s "Groper Train" films, are an infusion of "Pink Panther" type comedy and antics, melded into a Pinku film. One of Takita’s biggest editions to the series was his inclusion of Detective Kuroda and his sexy sidekick Hamako. The film is interspersed, almost at regular intervals, with a scene involving nudity, and more than likely groping or sex, and the search for the pearl. It’s obvious Takita was trying to make films you would get some kind of emotional pleasure from watching other than the sex. The humor can be very lowbrow at times, filled with gags involving farts and feces. Kuroda always wearing swimming goggles and carrying a breathing apparatus, combing the subways of Tokyo, looking for the vagina with the correct print, peering up women’s skirts, spraying down their private parts with ink and taking an imprint is hardly inoffensive material. But Takita isn’t exploitative in anyway, and Kuroda is presented as such a strange, weird character, that you can’t take any of his actions seriously.

Some of the gags in it are very funny, and they aren’t all lowbrow and in your face. Underneath the layer of European sex comedy inspired antics is a subtle, heartwarming underbelly that is trying to shine through. There are moments, incredibly small, and very infrequent, that you can see he’s trying to add emotional depth, trying to engage, and it works. It’s a bizarre mishmash of groping, private detective antics and a heartwarming tale.

On a side note, I’ve noticed that these films have always been listed as "Molester Train". With this release, and that of Wedding Capriccio, they’re now Groper Train. One obviously sounds worse than the other. I’m assuming that is the instigator of the name change? Because there technically isn’t much ‘molesting’ going on in the films, it is much more along the lines of ‘groping’, just so people aren’t confused.

Read more by Matthew Hardstaff at his blog.

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