人のセックスを笑うな (Hito no sekkusu o warauna)
Running time: 137 min.
Reviewed by David Lam
“Sex Is No Laughing Matter” is a timid little film that focuses on the relationship between older woman Yuri (Hiromi Nagasaku) and university student Mirume (Kenichi Matsuyama). Judging by the cheeky title and the risqué subject matter, you would think the film would be a foray into the social taboos of a relationship between an older woman and younger man mixed in with a little naked knottiness. But instead what you get here is a series of quiet vignettes that’s suppose to offer insight into their relationship. The languid pacing, meandering script and muted performances combine for a very clinical viewing experience that’s more alienating than enjoyable.
The film begins with Yuri wandering an empty street looking to hitch a ride after realizing that she has missed the last train home. She comes across Mirume and his friends zipping by in van and ends up getting a ride from him. After that fateful encounter, Mirume is taken by surprise when he discovers that Yuri is the new substitute teacher in his lithography class. They talk and we find out he’s a bit of an introvert, while she’s a little more outgoing. The flirtation between the two is so subtle that one can easily misconstrue it for slyness. She invites him back to her cottage for a sketching session and that kick starts their love affair. We watch as they make gooey eyes at one another, talk about the nuisances of lithography and occasionally have sex. Things unfold in such a placid manner that you start to wonder if anything is going to happen to put their love to the test. Well after what seems like an eternity, dramatic tension is finally introduced. Yuri’s husband enters the picture and the fate of our star-crossed lovers is up in the air.
After watching “Sex Is No Laughing Matter”, no one is going to mistaken director Nami Iguchi for being a visual stylist. It almost seems as if Iguchi intentionally set out to make his film as visually bland as possible. Throughout the film he simply plops the camera in front of the actors and lets it roll. This deadpan style wouldn’t be that glaring of a problem if Iguchi had bothered to fill each frame with something to hold the viewers’ attention. The majority of the scenes run on for far too long without getting the point across. The actors aren’t saying or doing anything that would make the viewer want to pay attention. The point to some extent is probably to capture the authenticity of the moment by having each scene unfold uninterrupted but if that’s the case there has to be something in the frame for the viewer to latch on to. What it ends up being is banality masquerading as profundity. If life is truly so drab what’s the point of having it put on celluloid?
Kenichi Matsuyama has now become a staple of Japanese cinema. He isn’t snooty about his cinematic preferences; he does his fair share of blockbusters and low budget films. It maybe fatigue on his part but Matsuyama gives a terribly uninspired performance as Mirume. His character comes across as being impenetrable because he’s such a blank slate. There’s no hint as to why he’s drawn to Yuri or a clear sense of how is he is as a person. Hiromi Nagasaku has gotten some praise for her performance and it’s well earned. She does infuse Yuri with an inner life and manages to show some emotional depth. But watching her onscreen one can’t help but notice how unwritten her character is. Seeing as how the film hinges on the relationship between Matsuyama and Nagasaku, there’s surprisingly little chemistry with the two. Both characters are so reserved that their sense of connection never really shows through.
“Sex Is No Laughing Matter” is an oddity in that it’s too obtuse to appeal to the arthouse crowd but lacks the familiar elements of a generic love story to garner mainstream success. And that essentially is the film’s biggest problem. It doesn’t know what it wants to be and ends up stuck somewhere in the middle between inoffensive and boring or inoffensively boring. Either way, that’s not a place you want to be.
Read more by David Lam at his blog