Friday, September 3, 2010

REVIEW: Dappi Wife/ My Wife's Shell

脱皮ワイフ (Dappi waifu)

Released: 2005

Ryuichi Honda

Tomoyuki Mashiko
Nao MuranagaKazuyoshi Ozawa
Aya Shiraishi

Running time: 79 min.

Reviewed by Eric Evans

The music business is a tough nut to crack. Just ask Hajime, a raspy voiced singer/songwriter not short of talent but somewhat anachronistic in his choice of dress. Sporting a shiny bob wig, velvet blazer and heavily ruffled shirt, he's every bit the picture of a GS (group sounds) frontman but several decades too late for that brief trend. His busking draws curious stares and his attempts to get signed to a label are met with indifference. His semi-retreat into a career as a radio DJ seems like a good fit, especially when Miki stops by for an autograph. She's young, cute, and clearly in awe of his musical persona. That night they have sex, and she shocks him into speechlessness by climbing on top and climaxing during the act. Within the minute he's writing a new song, smitten, and by the next scene they're shacking up. Things are ideal until they wake up after a night of passion and Hajime discovers Miki's secret: After sex, she sheds a layer of skin like a snake in one large piece. Like a tissue-thin Miki suit. It's an eye-opener.

Like many a male protagonist in this sort of enterprise, Hajime has a sex compulsion: Under stress or after humiliation, he likes to have sex with whatever comely female happens to be nearby. Sometimes this attention is welcome, sometimes not, and Honda doesn't shy away from either extreme in "Dappi Waifu". It's a manifestation of rock star hubris, but coming as it does from someone who is not a bona-fide rock star, it's part admirable but mostly pathetic. For her part, Miki seems aware of Hajime's predilections and feeds into them, enraging him by ignoring him then coquettishly undressing in front of him, resulting in a steamy session on the livingroom floor. Will the love of a good (if shedding) woman lead him to a life of monogamy? Will he ever get used to Miki fighting to be on top?

"Dappi Waifu" is largely shot handheld and bristling with manic energy, and Honda injects a deadpan humor to the material which is at times unexpected. It's very much a transitional film, showing a confidence which elevates it from typical student fare but still subject to somewhat obvious creative decisions. For example, tilting the camera mid-scene was a staple of sixties faux-psychedelia pop filmmaking, but rather than seeming like a nod to Hajime's hippie-trippy inspiration it seems gimmicky and obvious. However, the ample use of static shots is excellent, and the film's standout scene—a street performance with an unexpected audience—comes alive through an assortment of angles and reaction shots both to get laughs and convey how pathetic the life of an aspiring rock star can be. "Dappi Waifu" is a warmup for the almost documentary stylistic exactness of "GS Wonderland", but that film is miles ahead of this one in terms of polish. It's fascinating to see a young director work his way toward a solid style, and "Dappi Waifu" is a big step toward the sort of broadly seen films Honda is now making. Also fascinating is how deeply Honda loves the GS period, and how adept he is at recreating its music. I suppose the big question is, can Honda get past his GS obsession, or will his work be stuck in a creative cul de sac. Time will tell.

Finally, what about the sex? What there is tends to be passionate, brief, and essential to the plot. As such the film might confuse pinkists and rankle prudes, but what Honda has done is create a pretty rare beast: A sex film that requires the sex to understand the characters. (The skin shedding adds a strange Cronenbergian twist to the proceedings, but Hajime's reaction defuses the discomfort.) I imagine the film would be considered on the softer side of pink, but there's enough hay-rolling to preclude sharing it with just anyone. If you enjoy the story-first erotic filmmaking of Masaru Konuma, this is a comparatively lightweight yet entertaining diversion.

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